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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Water Bureau

From forest to faucet, we deliver the best drinking water in the world.

Customer Service: 503-823-7770


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Using Real-World Data to Replace and Maintain Aging Water Pipes

Water main break

With cooler weather on the way, main break season is just around the corner.

“Main break season” is Water Bureau talk for when colder temperatures settle into the Portland area, sometimes causing old water pipes to crack and break.

Our maintenance and construction crews respond to an average of 200 main breaks a year and about six miles of water pipe is proactively replaced throughout the year. When field crews respond to breaks, they also collect information used by the Asset Management Branch to predict which pipes are likely to need to be replaced and when.

A Field Guide to Water Main Breaks

Water Bureau Civil Engineer Jeremiah Hess recently wrote a preview for an in-the-works visual field guide to pipe breaks. The field guide is the result of a project funded by the Water Research Foundation and includes data from Water Bureau field crews. Bureau Public Works Supervisors Beau and Dave provided break data for the visual field guide.

You can read Jeremiah’s article in the July-September 2017 edition of Advances in Water Research.

The field guide that Jeremiah previews is titled The Practical and Visual Guide to Common Pipe Failures. It will include photos and diagrams to help maintenance and construction field staff—the eyes and ears of a utility—more accurately identify main breaks and suggest causes. The guide also provides a standard set of names for types of pipe breaks. The purpose of the guide is to improve the use of field data to make better predictions about the water system. 

How We Care for Portland’s Water System

Portland’s water system is a network of reservoirs, pipes, pumps, tanks, valves, meters, and other equipment—each of these assets has its own life span and way of wearing out or failing.

The Water Bureau asset management team oversees finding the most cost-effective and efficient way to manage the Water Bureau’s assets, through maintenance, repair, and replacement. Learn more about our asset management program and how our crews respond water main breaks.