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Portland Water Bureau

From forest to faucet, we deliver the best drinking water in the world.

GENERAL INFORMATION: 503-823-7404

1120 SW Fifth Ave, Suite 600, Portland, OR 97204

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1964 Flood Remembered

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This day marks the 50-year anniversary of what is known as the1964 Christmas flood, which caused significant damage throughout Oregon.

In Portland, the lower deck of the Steel Bridge was underwater and had also been hit by a log raft consisting of around 1,000 logs.  The impact of the raft severely damaged the Hawthorne Bridge, closing it for a year. At 12 feet above flood stage, the flooding of the Willamette River at Portland in 1964 was second only to the 1948 flood that wiped out Vanport. At its peak, the water was at the top of downtown Portland's seawall.  Landslide in Bull Run

The 1964 Christmas event caused significant damage to the water system infrastructure in the Bull Run Watershed. Conduit 2 was broken and conduit 4 was pulled apart at the joints. Only conduit 3 remained in service while repairs were made, but it provided enough water to avoid shortages.  The Unites States Geological Service and the Water Bureau operate a stream gauge on the Bull Run River 2 miles downstream from Bull Run Reservoir 2 and the water system intake. The maximum flow at this station was 24,800 cubic feet per second on December 22, 1964. By comparison, the same gauge this past week averaged 715 cubic feet per second.

While the Christmas event impacted water operations, it was actually the heavy rains in January 1965 that caused the worst damage to the water system. A significant landslide occurred at a site along the route of the conduits at the Portland General Electric power plant along the Bull Run River. The slide damaged the county road, and conduit 2 had to be taken out of service while emergency repairs were made. There was so much water spilling over Dam 2 that the plunge pool below was torn apart by the velocity and quantity of the water.Conduit 4 broken

The US Army Corps of Engineers has established a multi-agency, flood campaign website. Watch for links to videos, debunked flood myths, economic impact information and more.

Clackamas County has produced an oral history video on the impacts to the residents in the Sandy River basin, in which the Bull Run Watershed is located.

Be Water Wise: Water Pipe Insurance Policies not Affiliated with Portland Water Bureau

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Private home insurance companies are again conducting sales mailings offering water service line insurance in Portland. 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 insurance carrier. 

These private companies send letters to Portland residents offering a repair plan for the water service line extending from the resident’s house to the water distribution pipeline, which usually runs from the water meter in front of the house.

These letters state that the line extending from the house to the water meter is the homeowner’s responsibility. This means that if the pipeline experiences a crack or break, the resident is responsible for all associated costs.

While this is in fact true, some sales literature from such insurance companies has confused some residents, making them feel that they are required to have an insurance policy that is separate from their homeowner’s policy to cover any water utility line damage. This is not true.

Here are the facts that you need to know:

  • There are no laws that require you to insure the water line.
  • It is completely up to you to decide whether you want or need this type of coverage, and through which company you want to buy such a policy.
  • If you receive a phone call from a sales person employed by a private company and they introduce themselves as having a relationship with the “water department,” this is false information. The Portland Water Bureau is a public utility, and does not contract/affiliate with any insurance providers.

Before signing an annual insurance plan that protects your water service line, the Water Bureau urges caution. Some plans may be legitimate offers, but make sure to examine the fine print. For example, letters received by customers in 2012 noted, in small print, that the private companies’ insurance plan will not pay for residential plumbing services if the water line fails due to “acts of God,” frozen pipes, faulty construction or maintenance, or “normal wear and tear.”

If you are interested in water service line insurance, the Portland Water Bureau encourages you to consider the following information:

  • Review your homeowner's policy and determine if water line coverage is already provided. If you do have water line coverage, make sure to contact your insurance company and ask how this coverage would work in conjunction with an annual insurance plan.
  • Determine if you have prior issues with your water line pipes or if there have been any issues in your neighborhood. This will help you in deciding the necessity of purchasing an annual insurance plan.
  • Compare several private insurance policies to make sure you find the policy the best suits your needs.
  • Read the fine print in the annual insurance plan carefully.
  • Check the company standing with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Business Review and see their rating and any past government actions or advertising concerns BBB has found.

If you are ever suspicious of anything related to your water service, please call the Water Bureau Customer Service hotline at 503-823-7770.

Maintaining Water Quality in Portland’s Neighborhoods, Mile by Mile

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The Portland Water Bureau works year-round to deliver high quality drinking water to its customers. One of the regular maintenance tasks that occurs throughout the city, neighborhood by neighborhood, is unidirectional flushing or UDF.UDF completed in 2014

Unfiltered systems like Portland need to routinely clean the network of pipes to improve water quality. Over time, very fine sediment and organic matter from the Bull Run settle out of the water and accumulate in the bottom of the pipes. Unidirectional flushing gets those sediments out by forcing water in the pipes to flow at much higher speeds than normal. Flushing crews temporarily close valves to isolate sections of pipe creating one-way flow and increased velocity, then the water and any sediments in the pipes are flushed out through an open fire hydrant. 

The UDF crew has finished flushing in the northwest heights and parts of Forest Park neighborhoods. The area served was roughly from NW Lambert St south to Cornell Rd and Skyline Blvd/Ramsey west to Mill Pond Rd. More than 15 miles of 4, 6 and 8 inch water mains were flushed in under four months by a two person crew.

So far this year, more than 43 miles of water mains have been flushed in southwest and northwest Portland neighborhoods.

Click on the map image to view a downloadable pdf format of the map.

Water Bureau Submits Land Use Review Application for Washington Park Reservoir Improvements Project; Public Comment Period & Hearing in January 2015

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In order to comply with federal and state mandates, and ensure a healthy, resilient, and secure water system, the Water Bureau is moving forward with a project to update the Washington Park reservoir site. 

On December 15, 2014, the Water Bureau submitted the first of two Land Use Review applications for the proposed Washington Park Reservoir Improvements Project. In January 2015, BDS will issue a notice of public hearing and open the public comment period.

The Water Bureau’s Washington Park Reservoir Improvements Project proposes to build a new below-ground reservoir in the same general footprint as the existing upper Reservoir 3, with a reflecting pool on top. The lower Reservoir 4 basin and the slope to the west are needed to provide landslide abatement; the slope will be restored to its pre-reservoir condition. Reservoir 4 will be disconnected from the public drinking water system and a lowland habitat area/bioswale and a reflecting pool are also proposed in the Reservoir 4 basin. Work will primarily be within the Historic District.


Proposed project


Proposed improvements to Reservoir 3 (left) and Reservoir 4 (right)

Land Use Application #1
The initial Land Use application (Type IV, heard and decided by City Council following a public hearing) proposes the removal of the Weir Building (screen house), portions of lower Reservoir 4’s basin, and upper Reservoir 3’s basin. The gatehouses, dams, and other historic features will be protected and restored.

Land Use Application Package
In spring 2015, a second Land Use application package with two components will be submitted for construction of a new covered reservoir, reflecting pools, lowland habitat area/bioswale, walkways, and historic preservation and rehabilitation actions. The features, which are described in the first Type IV land use application, will offer the public enhanced access to the new surface water features and classically-designed gatehouses, dams, and related structures. These two reviews will be Type III. The Historic Resource Review will be heard and decided by the Historic Landmarks Commission following a public hearing. The Conditional Use and Environmental Review will be heard and decided by a Hearings Officer following a public hearing.

Before construction begins and permits can be issued for the work, the Land Use Review applications must be approved.

Community Sounding Board MeetingPublic Involvement
The applications are a result of a robust public involvement process that included multiple public open houses and nine Community Sounding Board (CSB) meetings that guided design for the required visible features of a new reservoir in Washington Park.  

CSB members included representatives from:

  • Portland Parks & Recreation
  • Neighbors West-Northwest District Coalition
  • Arlington Heights, Goose Hollow Foothills League, Northwest District, Northwest Heights, and Sylvan-Highlands Neighborhood Associations

Portland’s preservation organizations, including the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Historic Preservation League of Oregon, also participated in the public involvement process to help determine the future of the historic site.

The project addresses four major reservoir issues:

  • Recurrent landslide damage
  • Compliance with federal law
  • Seismic vulnerability
  • Deterioration of the 120 year-old structures

A copy of the land use applications submitted to BDS will be posted on the project webpage at www.portlandoregon.gov/water/wpreservoirs/LUR1. The Bureau of Development Services maintains the official application record, which tracks updates and revisions over time.

Additional Information & Contacts

  • Project Information: For detailed information, visit the project webpage.
  • Land Use Review process: The Bureau of Development Services administers the land use review process. For more information about this process, please their website or call 503-823-7300.
  • Project Questions: Contact the Water Bureau Public Information staff by e-mail or at 503-823-3028.

Portland Water Selects Innovyze Smart Water Network Modeling Technology

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The Portland Water Bureau has selected InfoWater software to support the bureau’s water distribution network modeling and management needs.

The new software, developed by Innovyze, will replace software the Water Bureau has utilized for 20 years and will further enable the bureau to address critical planning, design, operational, and water quality issues. 

InfoWater is an example of hydraulic network analysis software. This type of specialized software will offer Water Bureau staff in the Operational Analysis, Engineering Planning, Engineering Design, and Water Quality Compliance Groups the tools to: 

  • Model the water system’s pipe network and simulate its behavior.  For example, it can simulate what pressure and flow should be at any point in the system, based on given operating parameters at one moment in time (which valves are open/closed, how much water is in the reservoirs and tanks, etc.). 
  • Simulate the water system’s pipe network behavior over an extended time period.  The InfoWater software will be able to simulate time-based operation of the full water system over a 10- to 15-day period. This capability is very important for simulating water age within the system, or for determining how flow from our Groundwater source might travel through the system during a transition, for example.
  • Model and analyze system behavior for shutdowns, water quality events, and operational changes.
  • Assist in designing new infrastructure.

Additional benefits of the InfoWater software include: 

  • Runs inside the GIS system, offering the convenience of GIS tools.  For example, the older software didn’t store street names, so when searching for a specific address in the network model, both systems had to be open side-by-side and to visually compare shapes. The GIS provides many other spatial-analysis and mapping tools that the older software didn’t offer.
  • Directly imports and exports network model data in EPANET format.  EPANET is basic hydraulic network modeling software available for free from the US EPA.  The EPANET file format has become the world standard for exchanging network model files.  Because the old software was not able to read and write EPANET files, Operational Analysis staff developed a translator that lets them move data from the old format into EPANET, where the new software can read it.
  • The new software provides many bonus features, such as automated fire-flow calculations, energy cost analysis, and valve criticality analysis. 

According to staff in the Operations Group, InfoWater will offer the Water Bureau valuable tools for planning, designing, and operating the infrastructure.  The Water Bureau will be transitioning to the new software over the next year or so – learning the new software and moving data links from the old to the new format. This is definitely an investment in many years of water system excellence. 

The Portland Water Bureau joins Seattle Public Utilities, City of Atlanta, and many other large water utilities in using this product.