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Storm damage recovery

Winter weather response…all year round

Blog Post
A water bureau truck plows snow from a heavily covered road in the bull run watershed.
Portland Water Bureau staff worked around the clock during the recent extreme winter weather event to keep water flowing and provide emergency service to customers with burst pipes. But the work doesn’t start or end there—we prepare for extreme weather and other emergencies all day, all year round.
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Winter weather response

Between Saturday, January 13, and Sunday, January 21, Water Bureau staff worked 24/7 to keep water flowing to taps around town and to respond to requests for emergency assistance.

A road through a forest is covered in snow. A water bureau employee works to clear a fallen tree that is blocking two vehicles from continuing down the road.
Our crews plowed roads and cleared fallen trees so we could continue to access our critical infrastructure.
  • Our dispatchers responded to more than 4,000 calls about emergency water shutoffs, main breaks, and frozen service lines.
  • On January 17 alone, crews responded to a record-breaking 1,093 calls in one day!
  • We worked around the clock to repair over 25 main breaks throughout the city—with just over 20 in the span of 72 hours!
  • Crews in the watershed kept roads plowed and clear of fallen trees to maintain access to our critical infrastructure.
  • Skilled staff responded quickly to troubleshoot equipment problems across our water system, including electrical issues and frozen equipment.
  • Our operating engineers fueled emergency generators daily to keep facilities operating after numerous power outages. At some locations, they had to move 5-gallon gas cans around fallen trees to access generators!

Our staff’s hard work to respond to this event kept water flowing around town and helped residents minimize damage to their homes and businesses from burst pipes. 

Collage of five photos showing water bureau crews working in snow and ice to repair main breaks.
Our crews worked around the clock in poor weather conditions to respond more than 4,000 calls about emergency water shutoffs, main breaks, and frozen service lines.
 

Preparing for emergencies all year round

In addition to responding to extreme weather events and other emergencies, we also prepare and plan for them. We work year-round to ensure our system is resilient enough to cope with emergencies of all kinds.

Two water bureau employees dressed in heavy winter clothing kneel in the snow to troubleshoot a piece of water bureau equipment.
Skilled Water Bureau staff are ready and able to troubleshoot equipment issues during extreme weather.

To prepare for potential power outages, we keep our critical facilities equipped with emergency generators and backup systems. We maintain the gravity-powered design of Portland’s water system, which reduces our dependence on electrical power to move water around the city. For example, when designing our upcoming filtration facility, we selected a site that would allow water to flow to and from the facility using the power of gravity.

Our highly skilled and knowledgeable staff understand our complex water system and are prepared to troubleshoot problems as they arise. We maintain backup systems for all our critical facilities, and ensure staff are trained and prepared to execute them. This behind-the-scenes preparation means we are often able to successfully address issues before they become emergencies that impact our customers. Without this year-round preparation work, this winter weather event could have had more extreme impacts on our water system.

Water main breaks are a normal and inevitable occurrence during any extreme winter weather event. Our crews don’t just respond to main breaks—they also work hard to prevent them by maintaining our complex and old water system every day. Older pipes are more likely to leak or break, which is why our crews install over 30,000 feet of new water main every year—and have installed a record amount for the past three years!

Construction site with a large excavation in a roadway allowing Water Bureau employees to replace an aging water main.
Our crews replace over 30,000 feet of aging water mains each year to keep our water system healthy and resilient.

Even with all that effort, our work on our water system will never be finished. It’s a dynamic and complex system with thousands of interconnected parts. We’ll never be able to prevent all main breaks or other emergencies. Which is why we stay ready to act 24/7 to keep water flowing to taps across town.

Learn more about how we work hard every day to invest in a resilient water system.