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Brown lawns, clear skies: How Portland manages water in dry times

News Article
For Portlanders, conserving natural resources like water is part of our culture. Even though Portland is not facing a water shortage, drought is a growing concern around Oregon and the West, so it’s important to always protect our resources. 

Here’s the important thing to know about Portland’s water supply: With two abundant water supplies and active monitoring of conditions year-round, we expect to have enough water for all our customers in the days ahead until the dry season ends and fall rains return.

Here are some of the ways we make sure our water supplies last through the summer:

Two sources of high-quality water

Because of careful planning, Portland has two water sources that provide reliable water supply throughout even dry summers:

The Bull Run Watershed, our primary source of drinking water, has two reservoirs that fill up with rainwater every fall.

The Columbia South Shore Well Field is our groundwater source. It can augment the Bull Run Supply in drier months, or in the case of an emergency. The well field is a crucial component of our system’s resilience.

From August 3rd to August 27th, we supplemented the Bull Run supply with water from the Columbia South Shore Well Field. During that time, groundwater made up approximately 50 percent of Portland’s supply depending on daily demand.

“Groundwater is one of our most powerful tools in preparing for drought and planning for climate change,” said Portland Water Bureau Resource Protection and Planning Director Edward Campbell. “We can expect longer periods of reservoir drawdown in the summer. Groundwater allows us to carefully control reservoir drawdown to meet water supply needs for people and fish even when dry periods start earlier and last longer.”

Planning for the changing conditions

Each year, we develop a supply plan for Portland’s water system to to ensure safe, reliable water service. The supply plan evaluates the availability of water from our two sources, projected weather forecasts, and estimated water demands.

There are no anticipated shortages this year, and water restrictions are not currently necessary in Portland. We have not experienced a supply shortage since 1992.

We are responsive and prepared for changing conditions. If necessary, we would communicate with the community and ask that together, we all reduce our water use. We would make many operational changes, including asking our partner bureaus at the City of Portland and commercial customers to reduce their use.

Portlanders are water-wise

For most Portlanders, using water wisely has become a habit. “Overall water use by Portlanders is similar to levels from the mid-1960s, despite nearly doubling our population. This is because of increased efficiencies in appliances, greater urban density, and a conservation ethic that Portlanders already embrace when it comes to natural resources,” Campbell said.

We offer a wide variety of tools, programs, and resources available to help increase your water efficiency. Visit our Water Efficiency page to learn how households and businesses in the Portland area are saving water and money by becoming more efficient. By planning carefully, using water wisely, and working together, we are prepared for tomorrow and for generations to come.

To learn more about our water system, start by visiting