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Portland Water Bureau

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Fix a Leak Week 2019: Is Your Toilet Flapper Failing You?

A leaky toilet flapper can mean hundreds of gallons of water lost each day. Make sure yours isn’t slacking on the job with these simple steps.

A leaky toilet flapper can mean hundreds of gallons of water lost each day. Make sure yours isn’t slacking on the job!

What is a toilet flapper anyway?  The flapper is really the magic behind the flush. This rubber or plastic round cover at the base of your toilet tank allows water to “flush” from the tank into the bowl and down the drain.

What can go wrong with a flapper? Flappers are often the source of potentially costly leaks when they no longer fully seal; flappers typically last about 5 years. There are four ways to check if your flapper is doing its job.

Debris around the seal. If there’s anything (even tiny debris) keeping the flapper from fully sealing, you can get a leak. Water will drain into your toilet bowl from the tank and eventually down the drain!

Chain too loose. The flapper is connected to a chain. As you press down on the flush handle, this chain lifts the flapper to flush the toilet. If the chain is too long, it can get caught under the flapper after you flush, preventing the flapper from fully closing. A loose chain can be tricky because it likely won’t prevent the flapper from closing every time, which could make for an intermittent but substantial leak.

Chain too tight. Just like a loose chain, a chain that’s too tight won’t allow the flapper to close, causing water to leak. A proper chain length will have a slight bend in it and just barely rest on top of the flapper.

Worn out. If your flapper is slick or rough or the material comes off on your hand it’s time to replace the flapper.

Fix a Flapper in Five Easy Steps

You can repair or replace a flapper with these five easy steps. It’s fine to put your hands in the toilet tank water because water in the tank has never had contact with the dirty water in the bowl. Though washing your hands afterwards is always a good idea.

Replacement flappers can easily be purchased at hardware stores and plumbing specialty shops. Take your old flapper with you to make sure you get one that fits. Purchasing an incorrect replacement flapper can result in a leak.

  1. Turn the water inlet shut-off valve clockwise to turn the water off.
  2. Flush the toilet to drain the tank.
  3. Attach the new flapper to notches on either side of the overflow tube base. Hook the chain in a position where it rests without pulling the flapper up or hanging over the edge.
  4. With the new flapper in place, turn the water to the toilet back on.
  5. After installing the new flapper valve, flush to test.
  6. After you flush, make sure that the water level in the tank is at the level indicated on the overflow tube or side of the tank. If no markings are found, adjust tank water level to ½ inch below the overflow tube.

Replace your toilet for a rebate!

If repair isn’t the answer, it might be time for a new toilet. You may be able to get a $50* rebate from the Portland Water Bureau to replace your old toilet with a water efficient model.

Lean more at 

*Single-family residential customers enrolled in the bill discount program are eligible for a $100 per toilet rebate.

World Water Day 2019: Access to Clean Water is Basic Human Right

This article was originally published in the Portland Tribune on March 19, 2019. Learn more about World Water Day at

We’re cooling down with a clear glass of crisp cold water after a run in the park. We’re brewing a cup of tea to warm up after riding the bus home. Water is in the cupholder in the car or bike, as we drop our kids off at school. It’s in our coffee as we start a long day or a second shift, and on the meeting room table as we prepare for that big presentation. It’s in the local microbrew at the end of a busy week.  Some of us have even invested time and space to storing 14 gallons per person in a safe place, as a reserve in case of an emergency such as a big earthquake.

Portland tap water fuels the memories we create, the challenges we face, and our daily routines. Clean, fresh drinking water is a human right for everyone and all communities.  Seniors. Refugees. Workers. Children. People with disabilities. Portlanders. You.  Me.  We all need water.  On Friday, March 22, World Water Day, spare a thought for folks in places without running water, who have to walk miles, then carry water back to their home each day. 

Remember people in other cities in the United States, where tap water is dangerous. And then be thankful that when you turn on your tap here, you can enjoy your Portland drinking water knowing it’s a healthy choice – at a cost of less than a penny per gallon.

Increasing access to basic services in every neighborhood across the city has been central to my work over the past 10 years on the Portland City Council. No resource is more essential than water, and no other service sustains so many, every second of every day. In Portland, we have the privilege of access to some of the highest quality drinking water in the world.  Water supplied by the Portland Water Bureau comes from two sources: Bull Run Watershed and Columbia South Shore Well Field. With proper conservation, these supplies will last for generations upon generations. Delivering this precious water affordably is crucial to every Portland ratepayer and consumer.

Portland’s water system provides a consistent supply of clean, safe water for nearly a million people. The system protects our water source in the foothills of Mt Hood, transports water from the Bull Run, maintains thousands of miles of pipes, and delivers millions of gallons of safe and quality water. We have 25 wells in the Columbia South Shore well field, 36 pump stations, 58 tanks and reservoirs, 2,260 miles of pipe, 14,375 hydrants, 187,000 customer meters, and 129 drinking fountains, in potable water infrastructure. If we had to buy all this today, it would cost around $10 billion. Your water bill pays to maintain the system, and to keep it in compliance with ever-improving federal and state clean water standards. There’s no doubt that the coming years will introduce new challenges, but the Water Bureau is prepared and working to ensure that you receive the best return on your investment through continuing to provide some of the world’s best water.

For some Portlanders, even small increases in a bill for city services can pose financial challenges. Knowing this, the Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services (your bill from the Water Bureau also includes sewer and stormwater service charges) offer flexible payment arrangements, discounts for low-income homeowners, grants, rent assistance for water users in multi-family homes, and other options. Call the Customer Service Center at 503-823-7770 to ask about payment arrangements, crisis vouchers, and the Utility Safety Net program. You may also call that number to request a free home water quality test kit, if you’re curious about the potential impacts of the pipes and fixtures in your home on the purity of your drinking water.

This March 22, I invite you to celebrate the water resource that helps Portland thrive, while learning more about how it fuels the Rose City. Visit or call the Customer Service Center. Discover where your water comes from. Learn how to understand your bill. Find out if financial assistance is available for you. Access to water is a human right, and Portland tap water is always on for you.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz
Amanda Fritz is the Commissioner in Charge of the Portland Water Bureau. Commissioner Fritz can be reached at

March 18 Update: NE 23rd Ave. and Skidmore Main Break

A replacement pipe is transported to the work site by Portland Water Bureau crews.

Water Bureau crews have completed the repair of the 30-inch water main at NE 23rd and Skidmore St. that ruptured on Saturday. The 30-inch pipe that failed is a 1915 cast iron transmission main that supplies drinking water to in-town storage facilities but does not directly provide water to customers. A final determination has not been made as to the cause of the pipe failure, but age could have been a factor. On average, Portland Water Bureau crews respond to 200 main breaks a year, which is relatively low when compared to cities of similar size.

 “This was a very rare event and the largest main break we’ve dealt with,” notes Maintenance and Construction Director Ty Kovatch. “Thank you to everyone who was affected for their patience as our crews conducted repair work.”

Property owners, residents, and businesses in the affected area who may have a potential claim can contact the City of Portland Risk Management division at (503) 823-5101.

Work remains for the Water Bureau and our partners at the Portland Bureau of Transportation who will need about one to two weeks to excavate and rebuild the road. Travelers are encouraged to avoid the area in the coming weeks as crews conduct their work.

For additional public health information related to this incident, such as how to safely dispose of water in a basement, visit

Find additional information about this main break event here.

March 17 Update: NE 23rd Ave. and Skidmore Main Break

Water Bureau crews continued working overnight to reduce the flow to a level where they could begin excavating the main. 

Sunday and Monday, crews will continue making progress by reducing flow, excavating and installing shoring so they can safely enter the site. Then crews will replace this badly damaged section of main. 

Because of the challenging conditions, this work is estimated to continue into the beginning of the week of March 18. As some of the largest pipe in the system, this results in more water and more pressure. While making this repair, crews will install a new valve to help ensure more shutdown options and dependability in the future.

"We have continued to make gains against water flow, but more is needed. The work will take time. We will get it done!" said Maintenance and Construction Director Ty Kovatch.

Homes and businesses continue to have water service because this is a transmission main, not a service main. Sediment in the water has settled overnight but neighbors near the break may still see some sediment in their tap water.

There is no health risk associated with the tap water but sediment may cause taste, odor and discoloration. People experiencing this may choose to drink bottled water until it clears. Water Bureau recommends flushing taps for two minutes until water clears and repeating as necessary.

Water still flows at a lower rate down the street and into catch basins. The public is advised to not touch water in the street because of various safety hazards. 

The public should still avoid the immediate area around Northeast 23rd and Skidmore. Some areas near the break are closed to thru traffic.

For updates, follow @PortlandWater on Twitter.

MEDIA ADVISORY 3/16/19: NE 23rd Ave. and Skidmore Main Break

Portland Water Bureau crews are responding to a transmission water main break that occurred at NE 23rd Avenue and Skidmore Street. Crews are working to stop water flow in area streets, which has led to widespread road closures in the area from NE 21stto 30th avenues and from NE Alameda Street to Rosa Parks Way. The main is a 30-inch cast iron pipe.

PWB has succeeded in significantly reducing water flow in the main break area. Crews are continuing work to reduce the flow so they can safely access the pipe and make repairs.

The public is advised not to touch standing water. However, there are no health risks from drinking or using the tap water. (Additional information below.)

Water began flowing into the street around 11:30 a.m. Portland Fire and Rescue crews responded to evacuate 12 homes and provide other coordination efforts. Throughout the afternoon, more than 60 firefighters were engaged. 

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler responded to the scene to assess the City’s response and advise the public.

“I want to thank the community for their patience and for allowing responders to do their jobs. Coordination and communication are critical in addressing incidents such as this. I want to acknowledge the efforts of Neighborhood Emergency Team responders, who are volunteers that have knocked on doors and provided information to neighbors.”

City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees Portland Fire & Rescue and the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, also responded to the scene.

City, county and utility officials urge the public to be mindful of the following safety and traffic considerations:

Tap water: Residents may see discolored tap water in their homes in the affected area. There are no health hazards associated with the sediment in the water. This sediment is always in the water system but it only visible when a change in flow is enough to disturb the sediment. The sediment may affect color, odor and taste. Customers may choose to drink bottled water while they wait for the discoloration to clear.

Standing water: The public is advised to not touch standing water in the street because of various safety hazards.

Sewer backups: As the water recedes, people may experience sewage backing up into homes or businesses in the area. Notify Portland Bureau of Transportation Maintenance Operations Dispatch at 503-823-1700, which is staffed 24 hours a day.

PBOT sewer crews are preparing to clear sewer lines in the area, once the water recedes.

Power: Pacific Power estimates electricity will be restored to all homes by 7 p.m. Saturday night.

Traffic advisory: The public should avoid the immediate area around the break. Use alternate routes if you are traveling in Northeast Portland. Expect to see higher than normal traffic, including people driving, walking and biking on side streets as they avoid the closures. PBOT crews are placing temporary stop signs to provide additional warning to the travelers.

Power in the immediate area was shut off to protect the public. With widespread power outages, traffic signals are out of power in a large area of Northeast Portland, from NE Martin Luther King Boulevard to as far east as Northeast 42nd Avenue. Treat intersections traffic signals out of power as an all-way stop.

Overnight Saturday night, area streets may be darker than normal, so anyone in the area should use extreme caution and drive slowly.

On Sunday, PBOT street sweepers will clean the streets where the flood water spread debris. PBOT crews will assess the damage to area streets and make repairs, which could take days or weeks.

Water cleanup: For additional public health information related to this incident, such as how to safety dispose of water in a basement, visit and click on “Responding safely to Portland’s water main break.

Sandbags available: PBOT has established a location at Northeast 26th Avenue and Mason Street for sandbags, available for anyone who needs them to protect their property.

Check on your neighbor: If you live in the neighborhood, please check on your neighbor to see if they have immediate needs. The Portland Bureau of Emergency Management is overseeing 30 Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET) volunteers located at road intersections to help keep people away from flooded areas and safety hazards under the water. NETs are Portland residents trained to provide emergency disaster assistance.

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

For more information, visit