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Building for the future

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An illustration show two Portland Water Bureau employees wearing hard hats and vests guiding a pipe that is being lowered into a whole dug into a street.
Investments in our water system today ensure access to clean and safe water for the entire region. We work hard to keep our infrastructure up to date and to prepare for emergencies.
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The Portland Water Bureau has been delivering water to Portland-area residents for over 125 years. When we began serving water in 1895, things were very different—Portland was much smaller, some pipes were made of wood, and the water quality was questionable

Two photos displayed side by side. Left: A black and white photo of teams of horses pulling carts loaded with massive pipes through the forest. Right: An old, rotting wooden pipe wrapped in rusting metal sits on a black tarp in an office setting.
In the late 1800s, we built the first pipes from the Bull Run Watershed to the city (left). In 2023, our crews dug up a wooden pipe that was likely part of Portland's early water system (right).

Today, we’re looking ahead to the next 100 years and making improvements to address the issues of our time, like the impacts of climate change and the threat of earthquakes in our region. We continuously upgrade and modernize our water system so the same delicious, high-quality water we know today will be available for the next generation. 

Building resilience

Resilience is a system’s ability to withstand challenges, adapt to changes, and recover from difficulties. A resilient water system can handle emergency events with minimal service interruptions.

An active construction site sites inside a large excavated pit in Washington Park.
In 2021, after five years of construction, the new, seismically-resilient Washington Park Reservoir began serving water to Portland's west side. 

Our work to build and maintain a resilient water system takes many forms, from multi-year construction projects to the smaller work of everyday maintenance.

A good example is our Washington Park Reservoir Replacement Project. We replaced two reservoirs from the 1800s with a modern upgrade built to withstand future earthquakes.

Or take our long-term investment in the Columbia South Shore Well Field. This high-quality groundwater source makes our system more reliable and can supplement our primary Bull Run supply during dry summers or unexpected events in the watershed.

Currently, our largest project is the Bull Run Filtration Facility, which we’re building to meet federal requirements for the removal of Cryptosporidium from our water. These new, seismically resilient facilities will also make our system more reliable and reduce the impact of future risks brought on by climate change, such as wildfires or more frequent storms.

A rendering of the filtration facility showing layout of the buildings, landscaping, roads, and parking areas.
The Bull Run Filtration Facility will help keep our water safe and abundant for generations to come.

Maintaining resilience

Large-scale projects like these aren’t the only way we’re creating a more resilient water system. A resilient system is a well-maintained system, and our staff are dedicated to the maintenance and operation of our infrastructure to ensure our investments stand the test of time.

Close up of a construction site with several holes excavated in the group. A Water Bureau employee is handing a segment of pipe to another employee standing in lined pit. In the background, a third employee speaks into a handheld radio
Our field crews complete almost 4,000 projects each year to repair and replace parts of our water system.

We complete almost 4,000 projects each year to repair and replace parts of our water system—which includes over a quarter million individual components. In the 2022–23 fiscal year, we replaced over 32,500 feet (that’s about six miles or about 109 football fields) of aging pipes, setting a new record for the third year in a row!

We do all this work so we can continue to serve excellent water no matter what happens—whether it’s a major earthquake or the consequences of climate change.

Financial stewardship

As we invest in these improvements to our water system, we are committed to spending ratepayer money responsibly. Our Strategic Plan prioritizes both system resilience and affordability and equity. Each year as we develop our budget priorities, we balance the long-term needs of our system against short-term effects on our community.

Our field staff’s work to maintain our water system helps us reduce costs and lower service risks. Our water main (pipe) replacement program prioritizes replacing the pipes in our system that are most likely to fail and negatively affect our service area. By proactively tackling issues, we avoid more costly failures or repairs in the future.

An old pipe is exposed by a large pit excavated in a roadway. A water bureau employee is operating an excavator digging around the exposed pipe.
We proactively replace over 30,000 feet of aging pipes each year to avoid more costly failures or repairs in the future.

Large construction projects like Bull Run Filtration also stimulate our region’s economy by creating thousands of jobs and business opportunities. We set equity contracting goals for our construction projects so all area residents can benefit from these economic opportunities.

Finally, we use all the tools we can to keep costs as low as possible. For example, we secured federal financing for our Bull Run Filtration project that is estimated to save ratepayers at least $247 million! And we continue to provide robust financial assistance programs for customers struggling to pay their bills.

WIFIA financing lowers the cost of investment for Portland ratepayers and smooths rate impacts over time.
Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program financing lowers the cost of investment for Portland ratepayers and smooths rate impacts over time.

Working for the community

Two Portland Water Bureau employees stand under a blue canopy behind a table with Portland Water Bureau materials. They are speaking with a group of community members attending an event.
Our staff regularly attend community events to answer questions and share information about our work.

When making improvements to our water system, our goal is to create a water system that will serve the region for another 100 years or more. We recognize that work on these projects impacts Portlanders now. We strive to lessen those impacts as best we can. Learn more about what to expect during our construction projects.

If you have questions or concerns about one of our improvement projects, contact our construction project outreach team at waterprojects@portlandoregon.gov or 503-823-0102.