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The City of Portland, Oregon

Nick Fish (In Memoriam)

City of Portland Commissioner

phone: 503-823-3589


1221 S.W. 4th, Room 240, Portland, OR 97204

A History of the Bull Run Watershed

September 16, 2013

118 years ago, Portlanders enjoyed the first taste of drinking water from the Bull Run Watershed.

On January 2, 1895, water from the Bull Run flowed 25 miles into Portland – providing up to 25 million gallons per day. Fast forward to 2013, and our pipes can now provide up to 212 million gallons per day!

Portland is lucky to have some of the very best drinking water in the world. And thanks to the visionary Portlanders before us, we will enjoy that water for years to come.

The Portland City Council, which is the steward of the Bull Run Watershed and our water system, has long been committed to ensuring our community’s ownership of the system, keeping the watershed protected from logging and other development, and using the Bull Run and our wellfield as our only sources of water.

There are a number of federal and local laws protecting our system. While some protections go back as far as 1892, when President Benjamin Harrison declared the watershed a national forest reserve, many of our protections were enacted in the last 25 years.

Pour yourself a glass of cold Bull Run water, and enjoy a short history lesson:

1992: Resolution 35024

Resolution 35024 revised the Land Management Plans for the Bull Run, and speaks specifically to ceasing and prohibiting "commercial logging and related forest management activities" within Bull Run.

1992: Ordinance 166098

This Ordinance identified our water rights for Bull Run. This action was required by the State of Oregon; the State required all those who claimed to have surface water rights dating before 1909 to register claims for those rights by the end of 1992 (Portland was granted rights in 1909 for the Bull Run and Little Sandy).

1993: Resolution 35203

Resolution 35203 requested federal legislation to end timber harvesting in the Bull Run and Little Sandy watersheds. Congress later passed the Oregon Resources Conservation Act in 1996, strictly limiting timber harvest in Bull Run.

1995: Resolution 35477

Resolution 35477 provided comments on the Preliminary Regional Water Supply Plan. The City provided major recommendations for the Plan, including:

  • A note that the City is "committed to maintaining the Bull Run as its sole source of potable drinking water" with exception for instances where supplementing from the Columbia Southshore Wellfields is necessary.
  • Other notes about prioritizing sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.
  • The comments were incorporated into the plan – read more about that in the Ordinance below.

1996: Ordinance 170721

This Ordinance authorized the Portland Water Bureau to join the Regional Water Providers Consortium as a member, and to endorse the Regional Water Supply Plan of 1996.

Section 7(E) confirms Portland’s recommendation: "proposal of no actions which would be in conflict with Portland’s expressed intention that Portland retail customers’ sole source of potable drinking water is the Bull Run."

2010: Ordinance 183540

The most recent Ordinance amends City Code Chapter 21.36 – Bull Run Watershed Protection. The Code speaks directly to "ownership of Bull Run land and infrastructure," and the idea of privatization:

"City land and infrastructure…that is integral to the delivery of municipal water shall not be transferred to any private entity…[it] shall not be transferred to any public entity unless the transfer is approved by ordinance approved by City Council."