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Portland Water Bureau

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


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

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Frequently Asked Questions about Water Quality

Why is my water discolored?
When the water from your faucet is discolored this indicates a disturbance in the water main. Since Portland is an unfiltered water system, there is a fine layer of sediment on the bottom of the water mains that can be stirred up.  Hydraulic disturbances caused by hydrant use, valve turning, main breaks or adjacent construction can stir up these sediments and cause the water to be discolored. Usually the water will clear on its own within a few hours. If your water is discolored:

  • The water has been been treated and is safe to drink.  
  • If there are particles or sediment in the water, use should be avoided. It may not be harmful but sediments can clog aerators and home filters.  It is fine to use this water to flush toilets.
  • Avoid using hot water until the pipes clear. That avoids drawing dirty water into your hot water tank.
  • After an hour or so, run the cold water for several minutes to see if it is clear. When one faucet runs clear, run the cold water through all home faucets until each is clear. This step will eliminate the dirty water that may have been drawn into your pipes.
  • If this does not go away in a few hours, you should call the Water Quality Line at 503-823-7525

Why are there colored particles in my drinking water? 
Usually colored particles in drinking water indicate the dip tube in your hot water heater is disintegrating. The dip tube is a long tube inside the water heater. It connects to the cold water pipe at the top of the heater and takes the cold water down to the base of the water heater to the heating element.

The majority of water heaters made in the 1990's utilized a dip tube made of plastic (PVC) which breaks down. It starts to break down from the bottom and over time the flecks get into your pipes. While the majority of particles are white, household plumbing can alter their color, copper plumbing can turn them blue/green while galvanized iron can turn them a reddish color.  They clog the faucets with screens and hot water hoses which are connected to appliances. They will clog up shower heads. As the dip tube gets shorter and shorter you have less and less hot water. The water heater has to work much harder to heat up water since the cold water takes up more space.

When this happens, the dip tube needs to be replaced. Contact the manufacturer to get the best information on replacement. Many people will want to call a plumber who can flush the hot water heater at the same time. The flecks are not toxic or harmful. If you wish to do a further test you could take some of these particles and put them in a glass with some vinegar. The plastic will not melt, minerals will melt.

Please feel free to call the Water Quality line at 503-823-7525 if you have any other questions.

Why is the color of my water sometimes different in the fall?
City of Portland water customers may notice a slight color change in the drinking water at their tap in the fall. This change in color is typical for the Bull Run supply during the fall.  This is a normal, seasonal variation in our unfiltered water supply.

The pale tint is due to the seasonal lowering of reservoirs in Bull Run. We start each summer with the reservoirs brim-full, and then use from this stored supply until the rains come again in the fall.

As a result, the two large lakes that are the Bull Run reservoirs are lower in the fall than at other times of the year. Streams flowing into the reservoirs travel farther along the creek beds to reach the reservoirs, running through sediments that are not exposed in other seasons. This can add color to the water.

The color only affects the appearance of the water;  it does not affect the taste or the quality. The water supply continues to meet all state and federal standards for safe drinking water.

Is my water treated by filtration?
No. Bull Run water is unfiltered. The Bull Run source meets the filtration avoidance criteria of the 1989 Surface Water Treatment Rule and has had a waiver from the requirement to filter since 1991.

Is Portland's water soft or hard?
Portland's water is very soft. Hardness of Bull Run water typically ranges from 1/3 to ½ a grain of hardness per gallon. Portland's groundwater hardness is approximately 86 parts per million (about 5 grains per gallon), which is considered moderately hard.

What is the pH of Portland's water?
In the distribution system, pH ranges from 7.2 to 8.2.

Does Portland add fluoride to drinking water?
No fluoride is detected in Bull Run water. Portland does not add fluoride to the water. At low levels, fluoride helps prevent dental cavities. The US Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider the fluoride levels in Portland's water sources (including groundwater) to be lower than optimal for helping to prevent dental decay. You may want to consult with your dentist about fluoride treatment to help prevent tooth decay, especially for young children.

What is the water pressure at my home?
The Portland Water Bureau provides water to all services with a minimum pressure at the water meter of 20 pounds per square inch (psi). Most homes receive water at a pressure of 40-80 psi. We monitor pressure throughout Portland. Pressure concerns are usually a result of an issue on the customer side of the supply line. Older galvanized pipes in particular can corrode which will reduce the flow and pressure to household faucets. To learn more about pressure please visit our Flow and Pressure webpage.

How can I get my water tested?
To learn how, visit this page for information on Accredited labs, water quality monitoring results, and free lead in water testing.

What should I know before purchasing a home water filter or treatment device?

  • Determine what you want a treatment device to do. Improve taste? Remove the disinfectant and its byproducts? Reduce lead in a home where lead solder was used to join copper pipes? Consult the water quality report to understand what contaminants occur in the system.
  • Check to make sure the devices you consider are designed to do what you want.  Read the label on the device. NSF International is a non-profit, non-government agency that tests water treatment devices.  NSF's web site provides assistance in selecting a water treatment device. The NSF consumer affairs toll free hotline at 877-867-3435 can answer questions about specific devices and send additional information.
  • Maintain the device according to manufacturer's regulations once it is in use.  Other water quality problems can develop from lack of maintenance.

What causes stains on sinks or plumbing?
Tap water may interact with the different metals used in home plumbing systems and produce colorful results. While the stains may be bothersome, your water will usually still be safe to drink and use. Regular cleaning with common household cleaners can control stains on sinks or plumbing fixtures. Stains and their causes include:

  • Reddish-brown stains on sink or plumbing fixtures. These stains are most often noticed along with brownish water. They are found in homes of any age, although they are most common in older homes with galvanized pipe. Reddish brown stains may indicate rust forming in the pipes.
  • Blue-green stains on sinks or pluming fixtures. These stains are due to copper in the water from copper plumbing. Typically this occurs in homes less than 2 years old. This problem gradually clears up on its own.

Is it safe to use tap water in my fish tank?
Water for aquariums should be dechlorinated.  The Portland Water Bureau uses chlorine and ammonia to disinfect Portland's water in a process called chloramination. Disinfection is important so humans don't get waterborne diseases. Chloramines can be lethal to fish, however, so it's important to adequately dechlorinate water before it's added to an aquarium.

If you have copper plumbing, be sure to run the water to flush out water that has been sitting in contact with the piping. Copper can be toxic to fish.  You can reduce copper in your water if you run the water for several minutes to flush your pipes.

How often does the Portland Water Bureau address Cryptosporidium?
The Portland Water Bureau does not treat for Cryptosporidium; the State of Oregon issued Portland a variance for the source water treatment requirements of LT2 in accordance with federal and state law. More information can be found on Portland's LT2 page.

What is the temperature of my water?
Portland gets its water from two reservoirs in the Bull Run Watershed resulting in water temperatures that vary throughout the year along with the seasons. In general, Portland’s drinking water temperature can vary between 38 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit.