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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Water Bureau

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

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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

The Right Plant in the Right Place

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Water-Efficient Plants for the Willamette ValleyThe Pacific Northwest has many spectacular native, hybrid native, and other plants adapted to local climate and soil conditions.

Once established, native and adapted plants are very low maintenance, require little to no pesticides or fertilizers, and survive well on minimal water.

Are you looking for the perfect water efficient plant for your yard? Be sure to check out the Water-Efficient Plants for the Willamette Valley guide. 

Night Work Scheduled for SW Macadam Ave

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Construction crews will be restoring SW Macadam Avenue near the intersection of SW Nevada Street Monday through Thursday nights July 18-21st. Zupan’s Markets and all area businesses will remain open normal hours during construction. To minimize traffic disruptions, work will begin each night at 8 p.m. and be completed by 5 a.m. the next morning.

During construction, SW Macadam Avenue will remain open in both directions but traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction and some turning movements could be restricted. Travelers are urged to use alternate routes and are reminded to drive slowly, exercise caution, and follow the direction of flaggers when traveling in and around the construction area. As with any construction project, safety is our first priority. Please obey flaggers and all construction signs.

 Crews will do their best to position equipment to reduce noise in the neighborhood. For more information about nighttime work and noise, visit the City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement Noise Control Program webpage, call the hotline at 503-823-7350, or e-mail

Water Bureau Flushing Water Mains in North Portland Neighborhoods

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To clean and maintain the drinking water system, the Water Bureau uses Unidirectional Flushing (UDF) to scour and clean the insides of the water delivery pipes. 

The Portland Water Bureau is currently conducting UDF flushing of the water mains in the St Johns and Cathedral neighborhoods in north Portland.

Flushing is occurring between N. Iris Street on the north, to Bradford Street on the south, from St Louis Avenue on the east, to Roberts Street on the west. CLICK HERE to view a map of the flushing area.

Flushing in St Johns is expected to be complete in September 2016.

Using Water Wisely this Summer
Flushing water from hydrants is an important and necessary practice to maintain water quality in the distribution system. This practice is used to flush discolored water from the pipes, keep water fresh in low use areas and dead-ends, and to clean inside pipes. This process is regularly monitored by Water Bureau staff to make sure the water is used wisely while maintaining water quality.

What you can Expect to See
Unidirectional flushing will have minimal impacts to customers. If you see hydrant flushing crews working in the area, please drive carefully and treat them like any other road construction crew.

During flushing, residents in the immediate vicinity of flushing may notice temporarily discolored water and lower than normal water pressure. The discoloration does not pose a health risk. However, you may wish to avoid using tap water or running the washing machine or dishwasher until your water runs clear. After flushing, if you still experience discolored water, turn on each cold water faucet in your house and allow them to run for several minutes or until the water is clear.

Flushing usually occurs Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

How Does UDF Work?
UDF works by forcing water in the pipes to flow at much higher speeds than normal. Flushing crews first open and close valves to isolate sections of pipe, and then the water and any sediments in the pipes are flushed out through an open fire hydrant. Residents may observe water gushing from an open hydrant.

Improving and Maintaining High-Quality Drinking Water
Drinking water systems, especially 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. While the sediments are generally harmless, they can make the disinfectant in the water less effective. Additionally, sudden changes in the flow of water can disturb these sediments resulting in discolored water.

Call the Portland Water Bureau Water Line from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm at 503‐823‐7525 with any questions or to report ongoing water quality problems. For more information, updates, and maps, visit

Project Spotlight: Water Providers Collaborate on Washington County Supply Line Projects

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A blog repost from the Regional Water Providers Consortium's website 

West side supply lineThree water providers - Tualatin Valley Water District (TVWD), City of Tualatin, and the Portland Water Bureau - worked together on two projects on the Washington County Supply Line (WCSL) which delivers 60 million gallons of water from the Portland Water Bureau to west side wholesale customers.

First, TVWD and the City of Tualatin partnered together on an emergency pump station for the supply line. The trailer-mounted portable pumps can now be used to redirect up to 10-million gallons of water a day via the supply line from TVWD’s Wolf Creek service area to TVWD’s Metzger service area and the City of Tualatin in the unlikely event water supply from Portland is disrupted due to an emergency or natural disaster.

Second, the Portland Water Bureau took advantage of the construction window and upgraded the meter that measures the amount of water that they sell to a portion of TVWD’s service area.


By working together, the water providers were able to develop an important back-up water supply using existing infrastructure, improve resiliency, and achieve cost savings by coordinating construction projects.