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Water curtailment

Learn what a water curtailment event is, what it would mean for you, and how we plan for these events.
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What is curtailment?  

Curtailment is a requirement to reduce water use due to a water shortage. It could be triggered by equipment failure, a fire in the Bull Run watershed, or other event that temporarily limits our ability to provide the normal amount of water. 

Curtailment stageDescriptionGoal
Stage 1:  
Voluntary curtailment
Reducing water use is voluntary but important during this stage. Reducing use now may help us avoid more serious restrictions. Reduce demand 10–20%. 
Stage 2:  
Mandatory curtailment  
All Portlanders must reduce their water use, especially outdoor use. Look for ways to save water indoors. The level of reduction depends on the event. Reduce demand 20–50%. 
Stage 3:
Critical water shortage
State of emergency. Outdoor water use is not allowed. Failure to reduce may lead to serious consequences, such as not having enough water for firefighting or for hospitals.  Meet only basic human health and safety needs. 

Should we need to declare a curtailment event, the bureau has established a set of curtailment stages, triggers, and demand reduction goals to keep a bad situation from getting worse. We haven’t needed to request a water curtailment in Portland since 1992. The policies for declaring a curtailment are listed in Portland City code Title 21.32 Water Curtailment Policy

How plentiful is Portland’s drinking water?  

We are not currently experiencing a water shortage, and we are well prepared to meet water needs during potential water shortages. We have two reliable and high-quality sources of water, a commitment to planning for emergencies, and strong regional partnerships. We also monitor our water supply closely and every summer develop a Seasonal Water Supply Augmentation and Contingency Plan.  

What would people be asked to do in a curtailment event? 

In a curtailment event, the Water Bureau will ask all water users to reduce their water use by set a water reduction target. That target will depend on how severe the shortage is. Reducing water use outdoors is the quickest way to reduce water use in the summer. Taking shorter showers, fixing leaks, and skipping the car wash all help. If we are in a level 2 or 3 curtailment, the need for water reductions is more urgent. All outdoor use would be prohibited, and we would all need to change our day-to-day actions to avoid a more serious reduction.  

What would businesses be asked to do in a curtailment event?  

Business and organizations use about 40 percent of the city’s water. If we are in a water curtailment event, they will also play a vital role in achieving our collective water reduction goal. Like at people’s homes, we would recommend businesses reduce or eliminate outdoor watering. We understand that every business is unique, and we would depend on them to decide how to best reduce their water use. Postponing the use of pressure washers and using brooms and mops instead of hoses to clean floors is one example. Running full loads of dishes or clothing when washing is another option. 

A gauge graphic shows four levels of water shortage. Dial is pointing to the lowest level "no water shortage", "Meeting demand".

How will I know if we are in a curtailment event?  

If the bureau must declare a curtailment emergency, we will use as many communication methods as possible to reach people. This includes local media engagement, social media, emails, and other options. Updated and detailed information on the event will be on our website. If the water shortage is severe, we may use methods typically limited to emergencies like texting and calling. To be better prepared, we encourage folks to sign up for Public Alerts to stay informed about events that affect their community. 

How can I be prepared to reduce my water use during a curtailment event? 

Be ready: have an emergency water storage. While we expect to be able to provide safe drinking water even while in a level 1 or 2 curtailment, it is always good to have a supply of water stored for an emergency. We recommend you have a backup water supply of 14 gallons per person, which will last about two weeks if necessary. 

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Practice efficient water use every day:

Is the bureau prepared for a curtailment event?  

Yes! Curtailment and water shortage events are unpredictable. However, we prepare by keeping a close eye on our water availability through seasonal supply planning. In addition, we regularly update our Curtailment Plan as a part of our Water Management and Conservation Plan. In June 2022, we partnered with regional water providers to practice what we would do in a curtailment event. The bureau has also developed a set of curtailment messages so, should an event occur, we can quickly provide information in English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Vietnamese.