Preparing for the future: Enhancing our system’s resilience to wildfire with filtration

Blog Post
Photo of Bull Run reservoir with smoke from camp creek fire in the distance
At the Water Bureau we’re always looking to the future and proactive ways to ensure our drinking water stays safe and plentiful. The new filtration facility is a key step to enhance our supply resilience to wildfire and extreme weather events.
In this article
Bull Run Watershed with view of forest, cloudy sky, and smoke from Camp Creek Fire in the distance
Bull Run reservoir with smoke from Camp Creek fire in the distance.

In late August, lightning sparked the Camp Creek Fire, which grew quickly—burning more than 2,000 acres in the Bull Run Watershed. The blaze is the largest in decades to affect the protected forested area that has served as Portland’s primary water source for well over a century.

Although events like the Camp Creek Fire have been rare, Water Bureau staff are always looking to the future and looking for proactive ways to ensure our drinking water stays safe and plentiful. The new filtration facility is a key step to enhance our water system’s resilience, better protect our customers, and make it easier to comply with future safety and water quality regulations.

Quicker recovery

The Water Bureau is planning a new filtration facility that will filter sediment out of our water and allow us to continue to safely serve Bull Run water after a fire or extreme weather event. Rainstorms can wash dirt, plant debris, ash, and other organics into our streams and reservoirs. This can be more pronounced following a wildfire, depending on the severity and location of the fire. The Bull Run is currently unfiltered, which means that when large amounts of dirt or organic material enter our supply, we cannot safely serve the water.

Once the filtration facility is up and running, our upgraded multistep treatment process will help address turbidity (sediment suspended in water) and other potential impacts to our water supply that can result from a fire, a landslide, volcanic activity, or a large storm.

Better customer protection

The new filtration facility will greatly reduce the threat of a long-term outage of the Bull Run system and is one of the ways we’re preparing for the future. Today, when the Bull Run supply is affected, the Water Bureau turns to our secondary source, groundwater from the Columbia South Shore Well Field. However, our groundwater supply system is not designed to meet peak summer demand or provide 100% of our long-term supply. If we had to rely on groundwater for extended periods of many months, we would likely need to ask customers to reduce their water use to help stretch our supply.

Having access to safe and plentiful water is critical to the health and vitality of our community. Building the filtration facility, along with maintaining our groundwater supply, will improve drinking water supply reliability for all our customers.

Added health benefits

Filtration will not only provide stronger supply resilience—it will also help Portland comply with federal and state safe drinking water regulations today and in the future. The Water Bureau is required to build the filtration facility to remove the microorganism Cryptosporidium from our water, but filtration will also remove other microorganisms and contaminants that can be harmful to the community. An important added health benefit is that, by removing organics, filtration treatment will also reduce regulated compounds such as disinfection byproducts, that can cause health problems in people.

Design of the new filtration facility is complete, and the Water Bureau is working to begin construction and have the new facility in operation by September 2027. When complete, this project will not only help us provide consistent high-quality drinking water but also make our water system more resilient to future risks.