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What to expect during a Water Bureau construction project

Four water bureau employees pose for a picture standing in front of their truck with equipment showing
A brief guide on what community can expect during ongoing construction projects conducted by the Water Bureau.
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What you can expect during construction

  • A safe work site: We want you to be safe around the work site. Please keep children, pets, bikes, cars, and trucks away from the tools, machines, supplies, and construction workers. 

  • A water bureau employee smiles behind the wheel of a construction vehicle

    Responsive service: A city inspector will be on-site during most work hours and may be able to assist you with construction concerns. Inspectors typically wear a hard hat and safety vest with “City of Portland” on the back. For additional questions or concerns, email or call 503-823-0102. 

  • Noise, vibration, and dust: Construction can create noise, vibration, and dust and disrupts normal neighborhood activity. 

  • Work hours: Work hours are typically 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Sometimes we work on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. When our crews have to work outside of those hours (e.g., overnight, on Sundays), we are required to apply for a noise permit from the City’s Noise Office. As part of that permit process, we will notify everyone in advance, and have a 24-hour hotline you can call. 

  • Traffic delays: The work will slow down traffic in your neighborhood. Please plan accordingly, read the traffic signs, and follow directions from the workers with flags. 

  • Parking restrictions: We want you to be safe, so you might not be able to park your car next to job sites, equipment, or materials. If crews are working directly in front of your home or a business, you may need to park in another place. We do our best to make sure driveways and parking lot entrances stay open. 

  • Equipment storage: Sometimes we’ll need to leave tools, machines, and supplies on your street overnight. For your own safety, please stay away from them.

  • Sewer, water, mail, and other services: You can still use sewer, water, and other services while we work on your street. If there is a planned service disruption, we will notify you at least 24 hours ahead of time. We will work with garbage, mail, and delivery services to make sure they still happen. 

  • Schedule changes and inactivity: Our work schedules can change for many reasons like weather, traffic, and problems with tools, machines, or availability of supplies. Sometimes we need to stop between different types of work and start again later. 

Before construction begins

Portland Water is working throughout Portland to repair or replace sections of water pipes that are deteriorating or at risk of failure. Before the actual water pipe repair work begins, crews will be in the neighborhood completing various tasks to set up the work zones and prepare for major construction. 

Pre-construction activities typically occur over time rather than all at once. These may include some or all of the activities listed below. 

Three water bureau employees install water pipes on broken up ground.

Site Visits and Evaluation 

During the project design process, various project team members will be in the neighborhood collecting information that will help them develop a successful project. You may see engineers inspecting the site or roadway, survey crews taking various measurements, utility locate crews marking underground utilities, community outreach staff talking to residents and businesses, and other field crews conducting important investigations. 


To plan for water improvements, it is necessary for survey crews to collect information about a proposed construction area. Survey crews take a variety of measurements to determine public right-of-way boundaries, private property lines, public easement boundaries, the presence of utility vaults and other landmarks, and other necessary measurements. 

Graphic explaining utility locate survey color markers and what they mean: White - proposed excavation. Pink - temporary survey markings. Red - electric power lines, cables, conduits and lighting cables. Yellow - gas, oil, steam, petroleum or gaseous materials. Orange - communication, alarm or signal lines, cable or conduit. Blue - potable water. Purple - reclaimed water, irrigation and slurry lines. Green - sewer and drain lines. Call 811 before you dig.

Utility Locates 

To plan for water improvements, it is important to know what utilities are underground. To avoid damaging those utilities during construction, it is necessary to locate and mark where they are. 

Crews paint markings on the street in different colors. They may also place small flags in the ground, or wooden stakes with ribbons, to indicate the presence of underground utilities. 

Each color has meaning and indicates what utility is present: 

  • White—proposed excavation. 

  • Pink—temporary survey markings. 

  • Red—electric power lines, cables, conduit, and lighting cables. 

  • Yellow—gas, oil, steam, petroleum, or gaseous materials. 

  • Orange—communication, alarm, or signal lines, cables, or conduit. 

  • Blue—potable (drinking) water. 

  • Purple—reclaimed water, irrigation, and slurry lines. 

  • Green—sewer and drain lines. 

When a public utility is near a water pipe, or other critical structure, it may be necessary to dig a hole in the street or ground to find the precise location of the utility. This activity is called "potholing." When potholing is complete, crews fill the holes and apply an asphalt patch. 

Soil Sampling and Geotechnical Investigations 

To plan for water improvements, it is important to know the conditions that engineers and construction crews will encounter underground—the soil types, soil conditions, water levels, rocks, pavement layers, and whether any contaminated soils are present. This information will help engineers determine the appropriate methods to use in constructing the water improvements. 

Before crews can get the samples, they must first locate and mark underground utilities to identify safe drilling locations. To obtain the soil, rock, water, and pavement samples, crews dig small holes in street pavement and collect the samples. When soil sampling is complete, crews fill the holes. 

Pre-Existing Conditions Photos 

Before construction begins, site inspectors will take extensive photos of the work area to document pre-existing conditions. They will take photos of streets, curbs, sidewalks, driveway aprons, and other features of the public right-of-way and private properties that may be affected by construction. 

This photographic documentation may be used to determine whether reported damages were present before construction began or occurred during construction. 

Four water bureau employees pose for a picture standing in front of their truck with equipment showing

Tree Trimming and Protection  

To protect trees from damage by large construction equipment, it is necessary to trim tree branches at appropriate clearance levels from the street and curb where construction will occur. A general rule is 15 feet at each curbside and 20 feet in the center of the street. Typically, branches hanging over the sidewalk will not be trimmed. 

During the design of water project, a certified arborist will tour the project area to determine where trees will need to be trimmed before construction can occur on that street. All tree trimming work will be supervised by a certified arborist and will be done at the city's expense.   

Before construction begins on a street, crews will install tree protective fencing where necessary to protect tree trunks, roots, and branches from damage. The orange fencing will remain in place until construction is completed. 

Erosion Control 

Erosion control is important to prevent soil, sediment, and cement dug up during construction from entering the sewer and stormwater drainage systems and our rivers and streams. Erosion control helps prevent sewer blockages, basement sewer backups, damage to properties, and loss of wildlife habitat. 

Before construction begins and throughout the project, crews will install various measures to prevent erosion of soil, sediment, and cement. These measures include installing filtration bags inside storm drains and placing bags of wood chips outside storm drains within the project area. Crews may also install fencing to contain sediment and debris on the work site. 

Construction Preparation 

Prior to beginning the work to install water improvements on your street, crews will establish a safe work zone for construction. These activities include the following: 

  • Set up staging area for equipment and materials, which may be stored on nearby streets overnight. 

  • Install temporary traffic control signs according to approved traffic control plans. 

  • Install temporary on-street parking removal areas to create a safe work zone. 

  • Post signs and fliers to notify properties of upcoming construction. 

Localized water shutoffs 

To prevent larger water shutoffs later in the project, neighbors can expect shutoffs lasting a single day in as Water Bureau crews install additional valves. The valves allow us to turn off water between sections of pipe. This allows us to break a long segment of pipe into smaller parts. Neighbors should keep an eye on their front doors for shutoff notices. Water Bureau crews will post notices at least 24 hours before any shutoff. 


Open Trench Excavation 

Open Trench Excavation is the traditional method of water construction and the most common method for replacing a water pipe. 

Water Main Replacement 

Open trench excavation consists of digging down to the required depth, installing the new pipe, then backfilling the trench. 

The work includes the following steps: 

  • Sawcut pavement and dig trench to install the new water main pipe. 

  • Sawcut pavement and dig trenches from the water main pipe to the curb to install service lines that connect properties water meters to the new pipe.  

  • Install new water main and service lines. 

  • Cover open trenches with steel plates or fill with gravel and top with temporary asphalt patches at the end of each day as needed while work is in progress. 

  • Flush the new pipe with chlorinated water to sanitize the pipe. Test the pipe to ensure it is sanitized. 

  • Once the pipe passes its sanitization test, notify neighbors of an upcoming water shutoff. 

  • Shutoff water from the existing pipe and connect the new pipe to the water system. Disconnect existing service lines from people’s water meters and connect the new service lines to the meters. Turn the water on in the new pipe. 

  • Complete permanent pavement restoration of patched trenches. 

  • Repair any curb and sidewalk panels damaged during construction.  

  • Restore any vegetation disturbed during construction with topsoil and grass seed. 

Main Breaks

The Portland Water Bureau’s Maintenance & Construction crews are ready to respond to emergencies, including water main breaks, 24-hours a day, and seven days a week. On average, crews respond to 200 main breaks a year. 

This is a 6 step graphic showing how Water Bureau crews fix a main break. Find a link to the text version of this following the graphic.

Find out more details about how we fix and respond to main breaks here.