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What to do during a discolored water event

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Photo of a person filling up a glass with water from the tap. The water is a yellow to brown color.
If you have yellow or brown water at your tap and are impacted by a discolored water event, the Water Bureau is here to help. Learn more about what to do during these events.
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What causes discolored water events in Portland

Portland’s drinking water from the Bull Run Watershed is not currently filtered. This means that Portland’s drinking water brings sediment and organic material from the watershed’s forest into the city’s drinking water system.

The majority of the time, people in Portland don’t notice the sediment and organic material since it settles at the bottom of water mains. However, these can sometimes be stirred up during construction, hydrant use, firefighting, and main breaks.

When sediments are stirred up, people may see water that ranges from a yellow tea-colored tint to a brown coffee color. The discoloration typically only lasts up to a few hours while the sediments resettle to the bottom of the water main.

How to know if you are part of a discolored water event

Discolored water can be caused by your home plumbing, water system maintenance in your area, or other water system activity in your neighborhood, such as fire hydrant use. People with discolored water usually describe it as yellow, brown, or rust-colored. If you have yellow or brown water that doesn’t clear up after running a cold-water faucet for one minute, you are likely impacted by a temporary discolored water event.

Follow our Troubleshooting discolored water steps to determine the likely cause of your discolored water.

What to do if you are impacted by a discolored water event:

Report

Report discolored water to the Water Quality Line.  You play an important role in helping us maintain our water system. We want to know when you are seeing discolored water so that we can determine if we need to take further actions, such as flushing hydrants in your area.

Watch

Check your water once an hour to see if the discoloration has cleared. Run one cold-water faucet for 1-2 minutes and then turn off your water. If the color is still present, wait another hour and then check again.

The discoloration will naturally decrease over time as the sediments in the water main settle down. Depending on the event, we may send out crew members to flush hydrants to clear the discolored water out of the system faster. Typically, discolored water clears in a few hours.

Once your cold water runs clear, run all your cold-water faucets for a minute or two to clear out your plumbing and pull in fresh water from the water main in the street.

Wait

When you have discolored water:

  • Continue checking your cold water once an hour
  • Do not run your water continuously, this will not clear your water faster
  • Consider using bottled water or water from your emergency stores for drinking and cooking
  • Limit using hot water so that the discoloration isn’t pulled into your hot water tank
  • Avoid washing light-colored laundry

After

Once your cold water runs clear, run all your cold-water faucets for a minute or two to clear out your plumbing and pull in fresh water from the water main in the street. Check your faucet aerator screens and clean them if they’re clogged with sediment.

You may see color linger in your toilets, this is normal. Toilets tanks don’t completely empty with each flush and it will take longer for toilets to clear.

If the discolored water is in your hot water tank, you may still see the color in your hot water even after it has cleared in the cold water. It is easiest to see discoloration in hot water when filling up a bath. To address this, you can wait a few hours for the sediments to settle in your water tank, you can move some of the discolored water out of the tank by running a shower, or you can call a plumber to flush your water tank. Learn more about hot water tank maintenance.

Prepare

It’s always a good idea to prepare ahead for water emergencies. You might already have what you need – jugs or a water filter for camping. Those can also serve you in an emergency. If you’re setting water aside (and we strongly recommend you do that regardless), put aside a gallon per person per day for about two weeks, plus more for pets. Learn more about how to store water for emergencies.