Beyond drinking water: Understanding your bill

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Thanks to the work of the Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services, clean water flows out of your taps, your toilets flush, stormwater flows away, and our local waterways are healthier than they’ve been in decades. Learn more about the services your Portland utility bills pay for.
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Customer bill changes to take effect July 2024

Beginning in July 2024, the combined charges on residential sewer, stormwater, and water bills from the Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services will increase by 6.24%, or an average of $8.88 per month for a typical residential customer. [Certain customers will also see a larger increase on their stormwater charges. See the section below for more information.]

This increase is driven primarily by continued investments in critical infrastructure projects, rising operational costs, and supply and construction cost inflation. 

We know that higher bills impact our customers, and we’ve worked hard to minimize the increases while continuing to make critical investments in Portland’s sewer, stormwater, and water management systems that will benefit the region for generations to come. 

Continue reading for more information about what your bill pays for, how it helps to fund critical investments in the city’s water utilities, and how we can help you lower your bill. 

How your stormwater charges have changed 

Portland Water Bureau provides the city’s drinking water, while the Bureau of Environmental Services provides sewer and stormwater services. On your combined sewer, stormwater, and water utility bill, you will see charges for all these services.

Beginning July 1, 2024, customers will see several changes to their sewer and stormwater charges. Over the last 20 years, Environmental Services has invested substantially in our shared stormwater management system.Major floodplain restoration, large stormwater projects, and the Big Pipe Project mean we are now investing more in the stormwater system than in the sanitary sewer system. This means that Environmental Services will shift our rates to reflect this greater investment in our stormwater system.

While most customers will see only small changes to the charges in the stormwater section of their bills, some customers may see a significant increase. 

Visit this page for detailed information about these changes and what you can expect. 

Where does the money from my bill go?

Water systems are complex. Just bringing drinking water to each home’s taps requires more than 2,200 miles of pipe beneath the ground. Managing stormwater and wastewater requires another 2,500 miles of pipes, thousands of green streets, nearly 100 pump stations, two treatment plants, and many acres of wetlands and waterways. The Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant processed 28 billion gallons of wastewater last year alone. 

Behind all that infrastructure are over 1,300 dedicated employees that work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year round to make sure that our city’s water utilities are safe, reliable, and always fully operational.

Pie chart showing how sewer, stormwater, water bill charges are distributed to the water system, sewer system, stormwater system, base charge, and Portland Harbor Superfund

The graphic above illustrates how your sewer, stormwater, and water bill dollars support these complex systems. (Numbers rounded for clarity.)

  • 25% of your bill goes to providing drinking water, including water treatment, water source protection, pipes, tanks, and hydrants.
  • 33.6% of your bill pays for the sewer and wastewater treatment system, including the pipes, pumps, and wastewater treatment facilities. 
  • 25.9% of your bill supports the stormwater system, which manages water runoff from hard surfaces like streets, roofs, and parking lots; prevents pollution; and mitigates flooding.
  • 15.1% of your bill represents the base charge, which allows us to provide customer service, billing, and water meter reading. 
  • 0.5% of your bill goes to the Portland Harbor Superfund, which contributes to the cleanup of the Portland Harbor area in the Willamette River. 

How rates and charges are allocated

Graphic breaking down a $1 bill into 35 cents for operations and maintenance, 34 cents for system improvement projects, 23 cents for loan repayment, and 8 cents for other costs

Every dollar of your sewer, stormwater, and water charges pays for the following: 

Operations and maintenance: $0.35

Running the drinking water, sanitary sewer, and stormwater systems requires constant, year-round work. Rates and charges help fund the operations and maintenance of the city’s pipes, water and wastewater treatment facilities, reservoirs and source protection, hydrants, customer service, regulatory compliance, culverts, sumps, maintenance holes, and pollution control facilities. This essential work keeps the drinking water safe, keeps the wastewater treatment process running smoothly, and manages stormwater to reduce flooding risks and improve water quality.

System improvement projects: $0.34

About one-third of Portland’s public sewer and stormwater pipes are more than 80 years old. System improvement projects by both the Water Bureau and Environmental Services repair or replace aging pipes, improve water quality, and help protect people, property, and the environment.

Debt service loan repayment: $0.23

Debt service is payments on current and completed projects, such as the Big Pipe Project, an ambitious set of actions and improvements that eliminated most combined sewer overflows to the Willamette River and Columbia Slough.

Other expenditures: $0.08

Other expenditures that are necessary for service functions include:

  • Transfers to the Rate Stabilization Account, which are funds set aside to limit rate increases for capital investments
  • Payments to the General Fund for City of Portland services
  • Utility license fees
  • Pension obligation bond payments
  • Portland Harbor Superfund 

How we work efficiently to keep costs low

As infrastructure bureaus, most of our costs each year are fixed and go toward operating and maintaining the water systems, investing in needed improvements, and making the debt service payments that help finance current and completed projects. This means that as we develop our budget priorities each year, we seek to balance the long-term needs of our water system with short-term effects on our community. 

As we plan major projects, we strategically prioritize investments and shift resources as needed to maintain service affordability and keep rate increases predictable year over year. When investing in critical projects like the Secondary Treatment Expansion Program or the Bull Run Treatment Projects, we also seek out cost-saving measures, such as the federal financing that the Water Bureau secured for the Bull Run Filtration Project that is estimated to save customers at least $247 million, a major cost reduction for an essential project. 

As we make these continuous improvements to our water systems we remain committed to spending customer dollars responsibly and transparently. 

How your dollars support critical water system improvements

Aerial view of the Secondary Treatment Expansion Program project site
The Secondary Treatment Expansion Program from Environmental Services

The projects that the Water Bureau and Environmental Services invest in will ensure the continued safety and reliability of Portland’s sewer, stormwater, and water systems for generations to come.

  • The Bull Run Filtration Project, led by the Water Bureau, is a new water treatment facility that is necessary to comply with federal and state drinking water regulations and to remove the microorganism Cryptosporidium from our water supply. It will also protect the drinking water system from a variety of other potential impacts, including those related to wildfires. 
  • The Secondary Treatment Expansion Program, led by Environmental Services, is the largest improvement to our wastewater treatment facility since the 1970s. These improvements will increase the plant’s resiliency, protect water quality, and provide healthier work environments for essential workers. 

With every project, we are investing in the resilience and safety of Portland’s water resources for the next 100 years. We are building infrastructure that can withstand emerging threats such as earthquakes, wildfires, and the impacts of climate change. This means future generations of Portlanders can benefit from our amazing water resources the same way that we have. 

Help to manage your bill

Apply for financial assistance

We offer several ways for customers to manage their bills. If you are struggling to pay your bill, visit our financial assistance page to apply for assistance and learn more about other options, including bill discounts and payment arrangements.  

Later this year, we will launch a pilot program that will automatically reduce utility bills for customers facing financial hardship. Learn how our Smart Discount Program will help more people afford their bill.

Manage water wisely

Lowering your water use is a great way to save money on your bill. Our water efficiency program provides a variety of tools and rebates to help you reduce the amount of water you use and discharge into the sewer system, which can save on your bill.