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Celebrating the Past, Present, & Future of the Washington Park Reservoirs

By Lindsay Wochnick Add a Comment

Community event

On June 25, close to 100 members of the community attended an event honoring the past, present, and future of the Washington Park Reservoirs. 

Retrospective display boards Retrospective display boards

Attendees were treated to retrospective display boards celebrating the reservoir’s past, an opportunity to photograph the current reservoirs, guided walking tours around Reservoir 3, and a “toss a penny into the reservoir, make a wish” tribute for the future.


The event offered the community a chance to take a last look at Reservoir 3 and 4 before an eight-year construction project begins at the site.
The Past

Reservoir 3 construction, 1894 Reservoir 3 construction, 1894 
Reservoir 3 construction, 1894

The reservoirs in Washington Park were constructed between 1893 and 1894, concurrently with the construction of the water conduit and distribution system from the Bull Run Watershed.

Reservoir 4 Construction, 1894 
Reservoir 4 construction, 1894

The reservoir’s concrete-lined basins, buildings, and dams were constructed in a Romanesque style for an “Old World” feel important to the City Beautiful movement’s idealization of the natural landscape. The site and the built elements were carefully integrated, with both reservoirs in “naturalistic” shapes situated within a ravine. This was an experiential destination ‐ a place where Portlanders could get out of the crowded streets and into a naturalistic landscape. Viewpoints were also integrated in the design.

In January 1895, Portland’s new Bull Run water system went online. However, due to the landslide the reservoirs were not put into service until they were re-lined in 1904 and 1905.

The Present
In the 120 years since that time, Portland has enjoyed (and continues to enjoy) some of the purest drinking water available. However, recurring landslide damage to the Washington Park reservoirs over the years has required ongoing repairs and maintenance, and ongoing changes in safe drinking water standards has necessitated change.

The Future
Beginning July 1, 2016, the Portland Water Bureau and Oregon general contractor Hoffman Construction Company will officially begin an eight-year capital improvement project to update the Washington Park reservoir site at 2403 SW Jefferson Street.

New Construction Rendering - Upper Reflecting Pool at Gate House 3 New Construction Rendering - Upper Reflecting Pool from the Grand Stairway.jpg 
New construction rendering- upper Reflecting Pool at Gate House 3 (left)
New construction rendering - upper Reflecting Pool from the Grand Stairway (right)

The project includes building a new, seismically reinforced below ground reservoir. The new reservoir will preserve the historic drinking water function provided by the original reservoirs at the site and be engineered to withstand ongoing landslide encroachment and potentially catastrophic effects of a major earthquake. A reflecting pool/water feature will be constructed on top in the same general footprint as the historical Reservoir 3.

New Construction Rendering - Lower Reflecting Pool View from Dam 3  
New Construction Rendering - lower Reflecting Pool View from Dam 3 (top)
New Construction Rendering - Dam 3, lower Reflecting Pool and Lowland Habitat (bottom)

Reservoir 4 will be disconnected from the public drinking water system and a lowland wildlife habitat area, bioswale, and reflecting pool will be constructed in the basin.

When complete and online, the new underground reservoir will supply water to Portland’s west side and serve more than 360,000 people, including all downtown businesses and residents, 20 Portland public schools, three hospital complexes, more than 60 parks, and the Oregon Zoo.

The project is being driven by four major challenges:

  1. Aging Facilities: Reservoirs are typically designed for 100 years of service. The two Washington Park reservoirs are more than 120 years old. Condition assessments performed at the Washington Park Reservoir site in 1997 and 2001 confirmed the reservoirs and structures were nearing the end of their useful service life.
  2. Seismic Vulnerability: The original facilities were designed and constructed prior to current seismic standards. They do not meet structural requirements for current anticipated seismic activity and, therefore, are vulnerable to severe damage or failure during a significant seismic event. Failure of these reservoirs and structures could be catastrophic, resulting in the loss of drinking water to the west side of Portland.
  3. Landslide: Washington Park’s ancient landslide at the reservoir site has been continuously damaging both reservoirs since original construction in the late 1800s.
  4. Long-Term Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2): The 2006 federal regulation requires the City of Portland to protect its stored drinking water against contamination as part of the water quality requirements for safe drinking water. To address this requirement, the City is constructing alternative buried storage, allowing the uncovered reservoirs to be taken off‐line.

For more information on the upcoming project, visit

Wildlife of Bull Run: Bobcat

By Lindsay Wochnick Add a Comment

Bobcat "selfie" in the Bull Run WatershedBobcats live throughout the Bull Run Watershed. A Portland Water Bureau wildlife monitoring camera helped this bobcat snap an inadvertent selfie near one of the Bull Run reservoirs.

Bobcats are about twice the size of the average housecat and eat mainly birds and small mammals. Bobcats live throughout the state of Oregon, except at high elevations.

Want to try to spot some Bull Run wildlife yourself?
Sign up for one of this summer’s guided tours.

Portland Water Bureau Offices Closed July 4 in Observance of Independence Day

By Lindsay Wochnick Add a Comment

In observance of Independence Day, Portland Water Bureau offices will be closed on Monday, July 4, 2016.

This includes both the Customer Service Call Center and the Customer Service Walk-In Service Center located on the first floor at 1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Portland, Oregon. Offices will reopen on Tuesday, July 5, 2016 at 8 a.m.

During the holiday, Water Bureau customers are invited to pay their bill in the following ways:

  • Online
  • Drop off: Leave a payment in the Water Bureau's night box located at 1120 SW 5th Avenue to the left of the building's front doors

To report a water system emergency, contact the 24/7 Emergency Hotline at 503-823-4874.

Single Lane Closure on SW Barbur Boulevard June 22, 23, and 27

By Teresa Black Add a Comment

A Portland Water Bureau water main installation project will close 100 feet of the westside southbound lane of SW Barbur Boulevard between SW Baird Street and SW 35th Avenue  from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Monday, June 22, 23 and 27.

Travelers are urged to use alternate routes and are reminded to drive slowly, exercise caution, and follow traffic control signs.

Sales Mailer May Confuse Some Customers

By Jaymee Cuti Add a Comment

The Portland Water Bureau shares our community’s concerns about the recent detections of lead in water in area schools and other facilities. Unfortunately, a private home drinking water treatment company is trying to capitalize on these concerns with inaccurate advertising that may confuse some customers.

The Portland Water Bureau wants to remind our customers that such offers are not associated with the City of Portland, nor does the Portland Water Bureau have any connection with such companies, or any other such home treatment manufacturer. 

While some treatment can be an effective method for removing contaminants from water, including lead, it is important for consumers to make informed decisions regarding the water in their homes based upon accurate data and facts

Here are the facts that you need to know:

Our source water meets or surpasses all federal and state drinking water standards. The level of lead in drinking water in the mailing was from 2013, and was the regulatory level found in the most at-risk homes tested under worst case scenario. It is not representative of the potential lead in drinking water found in most homes during normal use.

The main source of lead in water in the Portland area is household plumbing. Lead is rarely found in Portland’s source waters, and there are no known lead service lines in the distribution system. Lead solder was commonly used in homes built or plumbed with copper pipes before 1985. Lead can also be found in brass plumbing fixtures and components.

Because lead exposure is localized to the plumbing in high-risk homes and buildings, your home would not necessarily be at risk solely on the basis that  your neighbors’ home has a high lead detection.

The only way to know if your home plumbing contains lead solder is to test. Free test kits are available by contacting the LeadLine, 503-988-4000 or

The Portland Water Bureau recently released its annual water quality report online. The federally-required report outlines how Portland is continuing to deliver clean and safe drinking water to nearly a million customers.

The Portland Water Bureau mailed a postcard to inform every customer about the availability of the report online. Customers are able to request a paper copy, either online or by phone or by calling the Portland Water Bureau Water Line at 503-823-7525.

From 2013 to 2016, more than 15,000 lead tests were conducted in Multnomah County. Of those, elevated blood lead levels were found in 188 children. No cases were traced to lead in drinking water from any source.