Clean Water at the Tap: One of the Biggest Wins for Our Health

Blog post

Figuring out a system for clean, safe water is essential for public health. The Bull Run Treatment Projects carry on our history of using proven and safe treatment to protect the health of our community.

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Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines

The Portland Water Bureau has been safely treating our water since 1929 to support public health. As science, technology, and regulatory requirements have evolved, we have adapted with improved treatment methods and new facilities to protect our water supply even more. Our improved corrosion control and filtration projects for our Bull Run water supply are prime examples of this.

“Figuring out a system for clean, safe water 150 years ago was a huge public health win,” says Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “We can take clean water for granted in Portland, thanks to our highly protected Bull Run water source and water treatment.”

In 1998, we began treating water from the Bull Run Watershed to reduce levels of lead at the tap. We’re in the process of improving that treatment with the Improved Corrosion Control Treatment project, required to be complete by 2022.

“Any chance to get lead out of our environment is a good opportunity for public health,” notes Dr. Vines.

Illustration of a sparkling glass of water

To make water less corrosive to lead and other metals in home and building plumbing, we will treat water with sodium carbonate and carbon dioxide. These naturally occurring substances are commonly used in the beverage industry and are known to be safe and effective for water treatment.

Currently, we also treat water to control many organisms that can make people sick. But this treatment is not effective for Cryptosporidium, a disease-causing microorganism.

The Portland Water Bureau is required to treat water for Cryptosporidium by 2027. To meet this requirement and any future regulations, we are designing and building a new filtration facility. “I understand filtration will lower the already low risk of Cryptosporidium, which has been detected in our water supply. I know it sets us up to have a more resilient water system,” says Dr. Vines. “It’s really a forward-looking project to keep our water safe.”

Our water scientists, engineers, and operators are using a pilot (mini) filtration plant to study which treatment methods are best-suited for Bull Run water. All the treatment methods being evaluated are commonly used at treatment facilities nationwide and certified safe by NSF International, which sets public health and certification standards.

Results from our pilot, along with guidance from public health and drinking water treatment experts, will identify treatment steps for the full-scale facility that best protects our water quality and the health of our community. While these treatment measures may be unseen by most of us, their benefits are real. Portland’s safe drinking water protects our health every time people drink a glass of water, or cook, or clean, or wash their hands. Having a system for clean, safe water at the tap is an investment in public health. As Dr. Vines points out, “It’s the best of prevention because, when it works, we don’t even notice it.”