Portland Returns to 100 percent Bull Run Water

Portland’s Water Bureau returned to using water sourced exclusively from the Bull Run watershed last week after switching to the backup groundwater system on November 5th. That change addressed contamination concerns after a massive rain event washed extra organic material into the supply. In October, the utility operators began blending water from the Columbia South Shore Well Field with the City’s Bull Run water supply. Mixing sources became necessary after an unseasonably dry Fall caused reservoir levels to dip excessively.

The Water Bureau’s investment in the redundant groundwater system provided Portlander’s safe drinking water despite two extreme weather events. System operators activated the alternative water supply three times this year. Before the two most recent uses due to weather, staff tapped into the Columbia South Shore water supply last August for annual testing of well and pump equipment.

The early November storms flushed nearly seven billion gallons of water into the Bull Run Reservoirs within 24 hours. That intense water flow picked up a significant amount of organic material as it traveled to the watershed, creating a cloudy mixture in the water referred to as turbidity. Elevated turbidity makes water treatment less effective, and it takes time for the suspended material to settle. 

As the Bull Run water moves into the system, people may notice a slight tea-like color in the water. Water Bureau staff say this discoloration is harmless and should clear as the reservoirs refill with new rainfall. The recently reactivated Bull Run water will take up to two weeks to travel to all users, depending on location. Contact the Portland Water Bureau if you have concerns about water quality by emailing wbwaterline@portlandoregon.gov or calling 503-823-7525.

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