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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Water Bureau

From forest to faucet, we deliver the best drinking water in the world.

Customer Service: 503-823-7770


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About the Bull Run Watershed

  • The majority of Portland's water flows from the Bull Run watershed. The Bull Run watershed is located around 26 miles east of downtown Portland.

  • The Bull Run watershed is separated from Mount Hood by a high ridge. Water is captured from rain, snow and rains 130 inches a year.

  • Bull Run Lake The lake was created 10,000 years ago by a landslide.

  • Cutthroat trout live in Bull Run Lake. Fish populations are monitored by biologists from the U.S. Forest Service & the Portland Water Bureau.

  • The source of the Bull Run River. Below Bull Run Lake, the flow goes subsurface before it bubbles up a quarter mile downhill.

  • Gaging stations throughout the watershed take measurements. Eight gauging stations measure flow, temperature, and turbidity levels in Bull Run streams.

  • The Bull Run watershed is protected at federal, state, and local levels. The Portland Water Bureau & U.S. Forest Service collaborate in watershed protection.

  • Falls Creek Falls One of the most picturesque waterfalls in the Bull Run watershed.

  • More than 250 species of wildlife inhabit the Bull Run watershed. It is common to see deer, grouse, and even bear when visiting the watershed.

  • Logbooms at Reservoir 1 stop the logs and branches that wash down the river. Logs could otherwise damage water supply infrastructure.

  • The reservoirs look very different in high summer during "drawdown." Reservoirs are in drawdown when more water is going out than flowing in.

  • Does Dam 1 remind you of the Hoover Dam? It's because they are both concrete gravity-arch dams. Dam 1 was constructed from 1925-1929.

  • Dam 1 is a triangle of solid concrete, except for a tunnel through the bottom. It holds about 10 billion gallons of drinking water at peak.

  • Forward-thinking engineers built pipes for hydroelectric power in the 1929 dam. 50 years later, the City constructed a hydroelectric power generator.

  • Downriver, Reservoir 2 holds about seven billion gallons. Two towers draw water for drinking water, hydroelectric power, and to the lower Bull Run River for fish.

  • Dam 2 was built from 1958-1962 & has an earthen clay center with rock sides. Both dam's powerhouses produce an average 84,700,000 kWh (kilowatt hours) per year.

  • At Headworks, water is screened and treated with chlorine. Water enters the pipes that serve Portland's 900,000 customers.

  • Commitment to fish restoration projects in the Sandy River basin. The Portland Water Bureau restores fish habitat to comply with federal Endangered Species & Clean Water Acts.

  • From Forest to Faucet... Portland delivers the best water in the world.

View the slideshow above to take a virtual tour of the Bull Run Watershed.

The Bull Run Watershed is the primary drinking water supply for the City of Portland and its 20 wholesale customers. Water from the Bull Run serves more than 950,000 residents in the Portland metropolitan region. 

The protected Bull Run Watershed is located 26 miles from downtown Portland in the Sandy River basin on the Mt. Hood National Forest.

The 102 square-mile protected Bull Run Watershed collects water from rain and snowmelt that then flows to the Bull Run River and its tributaries. The river drains into two reservoirs, where more than 17 billion gallons are stored. The Portland Water Bureau treats the water before it enters into the three conduits that transport it to Portland. The water moves through the system by gravity, requiring no fossil fuel consumption to move water from its intake to the main storage reservoir at Powell Butte.

The entire watershed has been managed under increasing levels of protection since it was established as a Forest Reserve in 1892. In 2001 the protection boundary was extended by federal law, and both the watershed and the protected buffer lands are known as the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit (BRWMU). No unauthorized public entry is allowed inside the BRWMU and all land management activities are limited to only those necessary to protect water quality and operate the water supply and hydroelectric power facilities.

The majority of lands within the BRWMU are under federal ownership (96%) and the rest are owned by the City of Portland. The BRWMU is carefully managed to sustain and supply clean drinking water to a quarter of Oregon’s population. 

Current Activities

Find out what is happening in the watershed right now.

Natural Features

Learn about Bull Run's wildlife, forests and climate.