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The Reservoirs of the Water Bureau: Portland’s Super Bowls  

Blog Post
An image shows construction of a reservoir on the left, and a football player holding a ball while standing in two feet of water.
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Portland doesn’t have professional football, but the Rose City benefits every day from a series of super bowls: the closed reservoirs that hold millions of gallons of excellent drinking water.Thanks to years of thoughtful planning, Portlanders benefit from a resilient system of water-filled tanks, reservoirs, and standpipes. Let’s look at how this amazing infrastructure stacks up compared to NFL players competing to win the big game.  

103 million to watch a roster of 53 players. Our 53 reservoirs hold 200+ million. The Super Bowl is the US’s most-watched television event of the year. Each year, an average of 103 million Americans watch the pro football championship game, which pits two teams of 53-player rosters against each other. 

The Portland Water Bureau has an even more impressive roster of 53: its system of tanks, reservoirs, and standpipes. They are spread out across our distribution system, from Powell Butte in Southeast to the Greenleaf Tank in Northwest. In total, the collection of 53 tanks, reservoirs, and standpipes can hold more than 200 million gallons of excellent drinking water.  

Side by side picture of football fans watching a game and water bureau workers inside an underground reservoir.  Text reads Portland water bureau's reservoirs. The Rose City's Super Bowls.

Football players come in various heights and sizes, just like tanks and reservoirs. Built in 1907, the Willamette Heights tank is Portland’s oldest water storage facility still in service. It’s also one of our smallest, holding 60,000 gallons. In 2021, we celebrated bringing the Washington Park Reservoir Improvement Project online. This seismically-resilient 12.4-million gallon reservoir boosts Portland’s fire suppression abilities. 

Stay up-to-date on this project by signing up for the Washington Park Reservoirs Improvement Project newsletter.  

side by side graphic of pipes coming up from underground water tank and water bureau employees working on large construction project.

Helping everything move forward, our six terminal reservoirs do the heavy lifting. Acting almost like an offensive line, our terminal reservoirs move water through our entire system, helping to regulate water pressure and maintain consistent water quality. The two reservoirs at Powell Butte and one each at Kelly Butte, Sam Jackson, Washington Park, and Mayfair combine to hold approximately 145 million gallons of excellent drinking water.  

This is water storage, built right. Last year’s telecast of the Super Bowl featured a commercial with actor Samuel L. Jackson. That name may sound familiar. The Water Bureau’s Sam Jackson Tank holds nearly three million gallons of water. It’s a vital piece of our region’s emergency planning. Located in Southwest Portland, the Sam Jackson Tank provides drinking water to the OHSU Hospital.  

Could you play an NFL game in knee-deep water? The Kelly Butte Natural Area is a Portland gem. Just east of I-205, the Southeast Portland park features wooded trails through native shrubs and ferns. Park-goers often overlook that they’re standing on the Kelly Butte Reservoir. The two cells that make up the Kelly Butte Reservoir hold a total of 25 million gallons of water. That’s enough water to cover the football field, from endzone to endzone, with nearly two feet of water at all 30 NFL stadiums. 

side by side graphic of portland water bureau huge reservoir being built and football player standing in ankle high water.