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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 worldwaterday.org.


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 portlandoregon.gov/water 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 amanda@portlandoregon.gov.