While it’s normal to assume you can turn on the tap anywhere in the country and get fresh, clean water, sources and water supply vary greatly from place to place.
In Portland, we have two high-quality water sources: the primarily rain-fed Bull Run Watershed and groundwater from the Columbia South Shore Well Field. All that rain Portland gets nine months of the year—yeah, it really is a good thing. We’re in good shape going into this summer, but we’re always carefully tracking our water supply. For our neighbors in dryer parts of Oregon and throughout the west, this year has already brought drought declarations and led to residential wells running dry, prompting some water utilities to install flow-restriction devices when water is consistently overused.
Why is the water picture so different even within the same state?
Water is local. Within the broader Portland metro area, we have five different water sources from twenty-four water providers. The region gets drinking water from the Bull Run, Clackamas, Willamette, Tualatin, and Trask rivers as well as groundwater. Low flows in one river may impact one community’s drinking water source, but just a city away, water supplies are fine.
Weather, water, and climate
Weather (in our humble opinion) is weird. From the historic heat wave of 2021 to the seemingly constant rain this spring, it’s been a strange ride. What we do know is climate models project a warmer Northwest with hotter, drier summers, and warmer, wetter winters with heavier rainfall and less snowfall. As the long-term climate shifts, we anticipate a range of extreme conditions will impact the region in the future, even as individual weather years continue to be weird. To manage for this weirdness, we track our Portland water supplies carefully, and because our Bull Run Watershed is mostly rain-fed, things are looking great for us so far.
Demand is down
At 47 gallons per person per day on average, Portlanders are a water-efficient bunch (the national average is 82 gallons daily per person), but this year we’re seeing a much lower demand for water so far. We typically see water use increase in the spring and summer as folks start watering their landscapes and running cooling equipment. This year has been much, much wetter than the past five years. All that rain has likely kept outdoor watering and the need for commercial cooling to a minimum. Keep up with our supply planning throughout the summer to learn more.
Water well, water wisely
Things are wet now and our water supplies are really good, but things can change. To be prepared for whatever this summer brings, sign up for the weekly watering number and receive free, week-by-week text or email watering recommendations based on your zip code and the weather. And to learn more about using water wisely all year round, check out our water saving rebates and information.