Climate change in the Pacific Northwest has become more apparent than ever before. Portland has experienced more days above 90 °F in the past decade than in any other decade since the 1930s. The entire Pacific Northwest has warmed about 2 °F since 1900, and 2015 still stands out as Oregon’s warmest year on record.
Droughts and natural disasters have been happening throughout history, but what were once-in-a-lifetime events are happening more frequently. The reality of a warming planet and changing weather patterns are clear. It’s a future the Portland Water Bureau has worked decades to prepare for.
“With two water sources capable of meeting base water demands, Portland is well equipped to face the most pressing drinking water challenges of climate change,” said Edward Campbell, Director of Resource Protection and Planning. “The Bull Run River and the Columbia South Shore Well Field aquifers provide long term flexibility and adaptability for the Water Bureau in meeting its core mission. ”
Kavita Heyn is the bureau’s Climate Science and Adaptation Program Manager. As a strategist leading the bureau’s work on climate change, she collaborates with a wide array of people at the bureau, in the City, and throughout the water industry. Portland is seen as an industry leader in its climate adaptation work in part because of Kavita’s active collaboration with leading peer utilities via the Water Utility Climate Alliance.
Guiding the Water Bureau’s ongoing work is the Five-Year Strategic Plan, which was completed in 2019. It takes a risk-based approach to identifying vulnerabilities facing the water system. Director Gabe Solmer says climate work is one of her chief priorities. “We look at what those risks are and we kind of flip around that negative to look at what are the strategies we’re going to use to mitigate those risks,” Solmer said. “We can take a closer look and put critical importance on the climate change work that we do so well at the bureau and the actions that we take that have a real impact.”