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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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Main Break Season: Water Bureau Crews Ready to Respond

By Brian Balla Add a Comment

The Portland Water Bureau’s Maintenance & Construction crews are ready to respond to emergencies, including water main breaks, 24-hours a day, and seven days a week. On average, crews respond to 200 main breaks a year.

A main break occurs when the water main develops a crack or a hole that lets water out into the surrounding soil. On the surface, main breaks can look like leaks bubbling up out of the street, and, in extreme cases, the water can cause sink holes and flooding.

In Portland, cast iron water mains tend to break during the colder times of the year. Of the 2,100 miles of water pipe in the city’s network, approximately 1,350 miles are cast iron pipe. The majority of these cast iron pipes were installed before 1960 and remain in the water system.

Cold water can cause pipes to become more brittle. Adding cold air temperatures at or below freezing can cause the ground above a pipe to freeze and thaw, thereby increasing external stress on a pipe. Temperatures can be just one factor in causing a main break. The age of a pipe, soil conditions, pipe corrosion, and ground movement can also cause a main to weaken over time and break.

Fixing Water Main Breaks

Every main break situation is different. The Water Bureau’s response will vary based on the specific situation. However, this is a general sequence of events that happen to fix a main break. 

  • The Water Bureau is notified of a possible water main break.
  • Urgent response personnel respond to the site to determine whether the leak is indeed a water main break.
  • If determined to be a water main break, valves are partially closed to reduce the flow of the water through the main, limiting any potential damage the water could cause.
  • The area is blocked off for safety and traffic is rerouted.
  • Other utilities, such as PGE and NW Natural Gas, are contacted to mark utilities lines that will help to ensure that excavating the break area in the street will not damage other services or endanger bureau staff or the public.
  • The Water Bureau repair crew brings in heavy equipment, including a backhoe, to excavate the site and expose the break.
  • The main break is assessed and crews determine how extensive the repairs will be.
  • Repair may require the crew to temporarily shut off water service to customers who are notified before their water service is turned off at the water meter.
  • The repair crew then cuts out and replaces the section of the damaged pipe.
  • The excavation is backfilled with rock.
  • The new main is flushed.
  • Water service is restored to the affected customers.
  • The repair crew ensures the backfilled excavation site is safe for traffic before removing the detour.
  • The Portland Bureau of Transportation completes the restoration of the street at a later date.

A simple water main repair can be completed in six to eight hours, but large or complicated repairs may take several days to a week.

Affected Customers – During & After Main Break

During a main break, customers in the immediate vicinity may notice a reduction in water pressure or have their water temporarily shut off while repairs are being made. Customers may also experience discolored water. This color is from sediments that are always in our pipes and can get stirred up during a main break. The discoloration does not pose a health risk. However, avoid using tap water or running the washing machine or dishwasher until flushing is complete.

After work is complete on the main break, if you have experienced discoloration in your water, run the water at one tap for five (5) minutes to see if it clears. If it does not clear, wait an hour and try again. When the water runs clear, flush any taps where discolored water was present.

Reporting Water Main Breaks, Water Quality Issues

Anyone observing water running from streets or sidewalks is encouraged to report the leak to the Water Bureau. Please call the Water Bureau’s 24-hour Emergency Line at 503-823-4874 for water system emergencies, including suspected main breaks.

If customers experience ongoing water quality problems or lost water service with no notification, call the Water Line at 503-823-7525, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. After hours, contact the 24-hour Emergency Line at 503-823-4874.

Protect Your Home's Plumbing this Winter

By Brian Balla

Rain, ice and snow can play havoc with water pipes. Below are tips for protecting your home’s plumbing this winter:


  • Caulk around pipes where they enter the home.
  • Close all foundation vents and fill vent openings with wood or Styrofoam blocks.
  • Wrap outside faucets or hose bibs with insulation if you don’t have a separate outside valve to turn them off. Use molded foam-insulating covers which are available at hardware stores. Newspaper or rags (covered with plastic wrap) are another option. 
  • Disconnect garden hoses and drain in-ground irrigation systems.


  • Insulate pipes in unheated areas, such as attics, crawl spaces and basements.
  • When below-freezing weather is forecast, open cupboard doors in the kitchen and bathrooms. This allows these pipes to get more heat from inside your home.
  • If you leave home for several days, put your furnace on a low setting. This may not prevent freezing pipes but it can help.
  • Let a slight drip of water run when temperatures dip below freezing. Use cold water to avoid water heating charges.


  • Thaw plumbing lines safely with a hair dryer. Once the pipe has thawed, make sure to leave a little water running so the pipe doesn’t freeze again.
  • Do not open the water meter box near the curb. It could increase the chance of freezing water at the meter.


  • Close your main water shut-off valve to your house. Most shutoff valves are located where the water line enters the house, either at the front of your house where you connect your hose, or basement near the hot water heater, or inside the garage.
  • Turn off the water heater. Locate the dedicated shut-off valve on the cold water inlet.
  • Remember, the repair of broken pipes on the customer’s side of the meter is the customer’s responsibility. Contact a plumber for repair work.

The Water Bureau reminds customers that the best way to handle any sort of water emergency in your home including broken pipes is to be prepared before it happens. Taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the plumbing system in your home and note the location of all shut off valves are important steps in preventing a plumbing emergency from turning into a disaster. 

Customers that experience urgent water problems should call the Portland Water Bureau’s 24/7 emergency hotline at 503-823-4874.

Submit Comments: Proposed Updates to Portland’s Wellhead Protection Area Requirements

By Brian Balla

Groundwater from the Columbia South Shore Well Field (CSSWF) is an important part of the drinking water supply for Portland and the metro region.  Groundwater helps meet higher summer water demands and provides drinking water during emergencies or when Portland’s primary water source, the Bull Run watershed, is not available. The well field also makes Portland’s water system resilient in the face of drought and climate uncertainty.

To keep the groundwater from Portland’s production wells clean, the Portland Water Bureau partners with the cities of Fairview and Gresham to implement a Groundwater Protection Program throughout the CSSWF. The CSSWF Wellhead Protection Area Reference Manual lays out the pollution prevention requirements that apply to hazardous materials management in the well field. The manual was last updated in 2010 and is due for some minor upkeep. The biggest changes concern the annual reporting process for regulated businesses.

Submit Your Comments

The updated manual, a summary of the proposed changes, and information on how to submit comments can be found on the City website at Public comments on the manual revisions will be accepted until 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 4, 2017.

Learn more about the Groundwater Protection Program here.

Bubblers Will Be Shut Off for Weather

By Brian Balla

UPDATE -- Dec. 12, 2016

With another forecast of wind and freezing temperatures, the Benson Bubblers will remain turned off until further notice.


On Tuesday, Dec. 6, the Portland Water Bureau will begin a shut-off of the city's Benson Bubbler drinking fountains because of predicted cold temperatures, which can cause safety hazards on sidewalks for pedestrians. Bubblers are turned off by hand.

A few bubblers will be will be kept on – including one at Fifth Avenue and West Burnside Street, one on the waterfront near the west end of the Steel Bridge and one under the Burnside Bridge – to provide water to those who rely on them as their primary water source.

Once temperatures warm up, all of the iconic bubblers will be turned back on.

Main breaks, service leaks and frozen water meters can also occur as a result of cold weather. If you observe running water in the street, believe you are not receiving water from your meter, or experience an urgent water problem, please contact the Portland Water Bureau's 24/7 Emergency Hotline at 503‐823‐4874.

For more information on the Benson Bubblers, visit

Winter 2017 Customer Newsletter

By Brian Balla

Each quarter, the Bureau of Environmental Services and the Portland Water Bureau offer important information on rebates, payment options, drinking water quality, and water efficiency tips in printed inserts that accompany your sewer-stormwater-water bill. 

In the Winter 2017 statement, customers will find a newsletter highlighting tips for how to prepare your home for winter weather, what to do if you see a water main break and how to enroll in auto bill payment.

Take a look inside your bill or access the Customer Newsletter online.