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Investing in our future

Blog Post
This year, after finishing design and getting critical permits, the Water Bureau took the next big step and began construction of the Bull Run Filtration Projects.

Investing in our future

Design rendering of facility showing structures and process basins.
Filtration facility design rendering.

The Water Bureau’s work to build a new water filtration facility is an investment for generations of Portlanders and the customers we serve throughout our region. It's also a requirement of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Oregon Health Authority. 

This year, after finishing design and getting critical permits, we took the next big step and began construction of the new filtration facility and the pipelines that will connect it to our existing water system. Funding needs for the Bull Run Treatment Projects, including the completed planning and design of Filtration as well as Improved Corrosion Control Treatment, is now $2.134 billion and includes increases to construction costs.

Page from the annual report.
Bull Run Treatment Projects 2024 Annual Report to Council.

Read the Annual Report to Council

Like other infrastructure projects throughout Oregon and the nation, construction costs have increased due to a variety of market factors. To balance the need for these water system improvements with rate affordability, the Water Bureau has taken proactive cost management steps to make sure project costs will not increase water rates beyond what is currently forecasted. These steps range from securing long-term, low-interest federal financing and reducing the project scope to making changes to the Water Bureau’s capital plan. 

“We take our responsibility to manage costs and be stewards of the community’s water very seriously,” said Water Bureau Chief Engineer Jodie Inman. “We're pursuing every opportunity to manage costs and avoid impacting water rates while investing in our water system’s resilience.”

Included in the project costs is $396 million in contracts with firms certified by the Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity (COBID). We're committed to building a diverse workforce, with certified firms making up 26 percent of contracted work for the filtration facility and 34 percent for the pipelines. These equity contractor and workforce commitments align with the City’s Construction Diversity and Inclusion Policy and new Regional Workforce Equity Agreement. More than $27 million has been spent on equity contracts during planning and design.

Construction workers taking samples of road surface.
Construction crews preparing for road improvements.

We’re now more than halfway to the finish line. We have started the early construction work needed to break ground on these long-term improvements. The early work packages approved last year helped us to get the earliest start possible following permitting approvals. Maintaining construction momentum is our best opportunity to meet the compliance deadline and control costs.

Why Filtration

Back in 2017, when the Portland City Council reviewed options for meeting federal drinking water requirements, they unanimously chose to embark on a 10-year plan to build filtration treatment to protect public health and address known risks to our water supply. That same year, the City entered into a Bilateral Compliance Agreement with the Oregon Health Authority that set a deadline of September 2027 to have filtration in place. 

Photo of forest and water reservoir in winter.
Bull Run reservoir in winter.

With an unfiltered supply, we cannot safely serve the water when large amounts of dirt or other organics enter the reservoirs. Once the new facility is built, filtration treatment will change that by removing sediment from our water and providing multiple barriers to potential contaminants. 

This includes removing a disease-causing microorganism called Cryptosporidium that is present in our water in small amounts. While current levels are safe for most individuals, vulnerable people could see adverse health impacts, which is why federal and state safe drinking water regulations require treatment forCryptosporidium.

While other treatment methods can inactivate Cryptosporidium, filtration actually removes Cryptosporidium from the water and will also help us better withstand the challenges of tomorrow. Already, while we’ve been working to plan and design the facility, we’ve experienced events that underscore the significance of supply resilience and protecting Portland’s unparalleled water source. 

Bull Run Watershed with smoke from Camp Creek Fire in the distance
Camp Creek Fire in Bull Run Watershed.

Heavy winter rains in 2022 washed sediment into our reservoirs and requiredus to turn off the Bull Run supply and switch to groundwater. The Camp Creek Fire in 2023 burned more than 2,000 acres near our water source. Warmer temperatures and more intense storms caused by climate change increase these risks. Filtration treatment will help ensure reliable access to drinking water even during these types of events. 

“Climate change directly impacts our core mission of serving high-quality drinking water,” said Water Bureau Director Gabriel Solmer. “We’re building climate resilience into our system in many ways, including investing in this new filtration facility that will allow us to address wildfires, severe storms, and other threats to our water supply.”

Without the actions we’re taking to build water filtration, the people who depend on Bull Run water across the region are vulnerable to disruptions to our surface water supply and the waterborne pathogens filtration could otherwise keep far from the faucet. 

“More than a century ago, Portland’s founders established the Bull Run as our water source and built the gravity-fed system that brings drinking water from the watershed to your tap,” said Inman. “Today’s investments in filtration will help safeguard that legacy for the century ahead by enhancing our water system’s resilience, reducing future risks, and better protecting customers for generations to come.”


Bull Run Treatment Projects

Bonita Oswald, Project Communications Coordinator