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The Numbers Are In: Our Habitat Conservation Efforts are Working

Habitat Conservation in the Bull Run Watershed

Who calls the Bull Run Watershed home?

52 species of mammals
5 species of reptiles
16 species of amphibians
19 species of fish

The Bull Run Watershed, located in the Sandy River basin 25 miles from downtown Portland, is the main drinking supply for the City of Portland and many of the surrounding communities in the greater metro area.

Most of the watershed has a temperate rain forest climate, dominated by coniferous species such as Douglas-fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, and Pacific silver fir. It’s also home to a bounty of wildlife and fish – from pika to bobcats and salmon to salamanders.

Some fish species that call the watershed home are icons of the Pacific Northwest, like steelhead and coho salmon. They’re also listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

How Our Use of Bull Run Water Affects the Fish that Live There

Bull Run Dam 1Man-made structures built in dense forest environments, like the Bull Run Watershed, can disrupt the natural life cycles of the animals that call the forest home.

It’s no surprise then that the operation of Portland’s water supply system in the Bull Run affects the fish that live in the rivers of Bull Run: steelhead, Chinook salmon, and coho salmon.

Introducing: Dam 1 and Dam 2. The water supply system’s two dams block fish passage six miles up the Bull Run River while affecting stream flows and water temperatures downstream. The dams also block riverbed gravel from traveling into the lower Bull Run River, depriving these threatened fish of critical habitat for spawning.

To ease the effects on these fish caused by the dams, we developed the Bull Run Water Supply Habitat Conservation Plan. This plan allows us to operate the dams, which maintain the water supply for almost a million people, while restoring habitat for threatened aquatic wildlife. We’re aiming for a win-win.

And, after years of restoring fish habitat, the numbers have started coming in: our conservation efforts are working.

Restoring Vital Habitat: Logjams and Gravel

Logjam in streamThe Habitat Conservation Plan has the Water Bureau adjusting its usual water-supply activities to cool the river needed for threatened fish species, make sure there is enough water for fish, adding spawning gravel, and improving fish habitat throughout the Sandy River to offset habitat blocked by the dams.

Not only do fish need to get from one place to another, they need a safe space to spawn (read: lay eggs and make fish babies). So once per year, hundreds of tons of gravel are shot from the back of a truck into the Bull Run River.

The gravel settles into the river and creates vital spawning habitat for threatened fish. And the data show us that the surface area of gravel available to salmon and steelhead for spawning has more than tripled in the lower Bull Run River since we began adding it eight years ago. The water temperature in the river is also much cooler in the summer than it used to be.

And some fish numbers in the river are increasing. That’s great news, and a sign our efforts are paying off. Of course, we can’t claim full credit for this, because there are so many factors that affect fish numbers. But we’ve observed a definite increase in the number of steelhead juveniles (called smolts) leaving the Bull Run River for the ocean each year.

Chart illustrating that fish numbers are increasing in the lower Bull Run River

We’re also working with private landowners, Metro, and other regional organizations to provide access and to improve fish habitat throughout the Sandy River basin.

Fish ladders help salmon migrate in the Bull Run WatershedWe’ve replaced culverts and built fish ladders.

We’re also placing logs and rootwads into streams, which provide protective shelter for salmon and other aquatic wildlife. Juvenile salmon and steelhead find refuge in the pools under the large logs that are placed in the stream channels. And the data show us that fish habitat is starting to improve. Logjams are more common where the Water Bureau has worked, and they’re starting to collect more woody debris and allow gravel to settle in places where it used to get washed away. Restoring fish habitat is a slow process, so it could take many years before all of the Water Bureau’s objectives have been met.

What’s Next for Habitat Conservation in the Bull Run

Environmental specialist monitoring aquatic wildlifeWe still have plenty of work to do for the Habitat Conservation Plan.

Water supply operations will continue, but now our work will be done with a sharper eye towards minimizing impacts to fish and wildlife. Water temperatures and flow will be carefully managed and the lower Bull Run River will receive a dose of gravel every year, with some work still needing to be done to improve fish habitat in neighboring streams. And, of course, we will continue watching and measuring to be sure that the restoration benefits we’ve started will come to pass.

Join our Team: Strategic Communications Manager and Water Treatment Operator II

Work at the Water BureauIf you're interested in joining an award-winning public utility where employees thrive on the pride of delivering a life-essential product with world class customer service, the Portland Water Bureau might be just the place for you.

The Water Bureau is a recognized leader in the utility industry. We've achieved this success by investing in the very best people and empowering them to find new and better ways to meet our customer's needs.

The Water Bureau currently employs approximately 560 people. All current job postings with the City of Portland are posted online, and updated weekly. We are an equal opportunity employer that values diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Current Opportunities at the Water Bureau

Position   Emp. Type   Salary   Closing Date/Time Join Our Team 
Strategic Communications Manager Full Time $7,061.00–$9,406.00 Monthly Mon. 4/2/2018 11:59 PM Pacific Apply here!
Water Treatment Operator II Full Time $28.24–$36.50 Hourly Mon. 4/9/2018 11:59 PM Pacific Apply here!

Learn More About the Water Bureau


For more information regarding career opportunities at the Water Bureau, contact (503) 823-3515 or e-mail.

Discolored Water in Cully Area Due to Firefighting Activity

Discolored water has been reported in the Cully neighborhood and surrounding area.

This discoloration is due to fire response at NE 75th Ave. and NE Killingsworth St., which has inadvertently stirred a harmless sediment. The discolored water should clear up a few hours but is dependent on the fire activity. If needed, Water Bureau crews may be dispatched to flush the water mains in the area to help resolve the issue.

What to do When You See Discolored Water

When water appears discolored, we recommend customers limit hot water use and avoid washing light-colored laundry. To monitor water clarity in your home or business, check one faucet every hour by running the water for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Once the water appears clear or lighter, you can flush any faucets where discolored water was present.

If you have specific questions or concerns about water quality, please contact the Water Quality Line at 503-823-7525 or during regular business hours.

To report a water emergency after 4:30 p.m., call the Water Bureau 24-Hour Emergency Line at 503-823-4874 ext. 1.

Portland Water Bureau to Begin Annual Groundwater Maintenance Run

Groundwater reservoirStarting today, March 12, the Portland Water Bureau will begin blending a small portion of water from its Columbia South Shore Well Field with water from the Bull Run Watershed as an annual maintenance operation.

Public notification is not required but the Portland Water Bureau informs the media and sensitive water users, as a practice, when it activates groundwater and when it has significant operational changes. The groundwater maintenance run is expected to be completed by March 21, when the Portland Water Bureau anticipates returning to 100 percent Bull Run water.

As a result of careful planning, Portland is fortunate to have access to two excellent water sources that allow us to be prepared to meet the range of supply and demand conditions that occur in the Portland water system.

The Columbia South Shore Well Field is a high-quality water supply that meets or surpasses all federal and state drinking water regulations.

About Portland's Groundwater Supply

Groundwater aquifersThe city’s groundwater supply is a complex system composed of groundwater wells, pumps, treatment systems, electronic controls, and other equipment that must be operated regularly to identify maintenance needs. By doing this operation routinely, the bureau will ensure the reliability of the system when needed, either in an emergency or to meet seasonal supply demands.

The average contribution of groundwater to the system will be approximately 20 percent of the total daily water demand. Due to the low percentage of groundwater being blended with the Bull Run Source, the bureau does not expect there to be a noticeable change in water chemistry. It can take up to two weeks, depending on location and overall water demand, for the blended water to make its way through the distribution system to homes and businesses.


Customers with questions are encouraged to call the Water Line at 503-823-7525.

Congratulations to our AutoPay iPad Give-Away Winners!

Last year, three lucky Water Bureau AutoPay customers were chosen at random to each win a brand new iPad 4 Mini. Our three and a half month long AutoPay iPad promotion was our way of rewarding current AutoPay customers and getting the word out about the benefits of signing up for AutoPay.

And now the contest results are in. The winners have been named!

Congratulations to Patrick, Katherine and Windy of Northeast Portland! We hope you enjoy your new iPad Minis along with the hassle-free convenience of AutoPay.

iPad Give-Away winner Water Bureau employee shows the iPad give-aways

Left: Windy stops by the Water Bureau offices to pick up her iPad. Right: Customer Service representative Anna holds up the iPads that were given away.

 “Our customers are very clear about how important AutoPay is to them,” says Kathy Koch, Customer Service Director. “They expect it and appreciate it. It’s a convenience they don’t want to live without.”

Join Windy, Patrick, Katherine and 38,000 Other Water Bureau AutoPayers

With AutoPay, you can have your sewer, stormwater, and water bill auto-deducted from your checking account, debit card, or credit card. That’s right: Automagically.

AutoPay saves you time (hello, not having to write checks or log online!) and takes less than 5 minutes to sign up.

Plus, there’s no commitment and canceling is easy. There’s nothing to lose.

Give it a try. Sign up today!