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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.

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  • Conduit 1 The construction of Conduit 1 in 1893, the first pipeline from Bull Run, was a project of mammoth proportions for engineers of the late nineteenth century.

  • Conduit 3 After being completed in 1925, Conduit 3 could deliver up to 75 MGD, equal to the combined capacity of the two existing conduits.

  • Benson Bubbler In 1912, Simon Benson, a local businessman and philanthropist, donated $10,000 to the City of Portland to purchase and install 20 bronze drinking fountains, now known as Benson Bubblers.

  • Dam 1 The consulting engineer for Dam 1’s design and construction was D.C. Henry, who later was a designer of the Hoover Dam. The dam took two years to build, close to 200 feet high, and cost nearly $3 million to complete.

  • Dam 2 Construction of Dam 2 in the Bull Run was completed in 1962. Dam 2 is a rockfill structure and more than 100 feet high

Date Historical Significance
1885 The Water Committee identifies the need to build a new water supply. State of Oregon passes a charter amendment giving the city authority to finance a water system.
1886-1895 Engineer Colonel Isaac Smith determines that the Bull Run Watershed would meet the drinking water supply needs of a growing Portland for the foreseeable future. In 1893, some people say water could not be made to run from Bull Run to Mt. Tabor, but Smith knew it could. He serves as Chief Engineer from 1885-1897, overseeing construction of 24 miles of pipelines through old growth forest, constructing Mt. Tabor and Washington Park reservoirs, and upgrading the city's mains and distribution pipes.
1895 Bull Run water flows to Portland on January 2 through Conduit 1. That year public health officials noted an enormous decrease in typhoid fever cases.
1896 Colonel Isaac Smith, first Chief Engineer of the Portland Water Bureau, dies on Christmas of pneumonia. His final words include, "I would not like to have the cost exceed the estimate," referring to a project on the Sandy River.
City Charter replaces the Water Committee with a Water Board. After citizens protested against poor quality water supplied by the privately held Water Company, the state legislature passed a charter amendment in November 1885 which established City control over the water system and bonding authority to finance it. The 15 member Portland Water Committee was created and tasked with establishing a municipal water works, after which it was to disband in favor of a permanent Water Commission.
1904 President Theodore Roosevelt signs Public Law 206, the "Trespass Act," restricting access to the Bull Run watershed.
1905 The Health Commissioner credits Bull Run with reducing Portland's death rate to a record low.
1907 Although voters approve a bond issue to build two pipelines and reservoirs, some citizens advocate for changing Bull Run's name, saying it is shocking. The Oregonian runs a contest for a new name. Entries include Rose River run and Crystal River. An editorial entitled "Bull Run Will Do" urges the group to "find a more useful outlet for its energy." A ballot initiative seeks to make water free--with costs paid through property taxes. The Oregonian opposes the initiative. A judge rules that the initiative violates technicalities and cannot go on the ballot.
1911 Conduit 2 from Bull Run increases delivery capacity. Water begins to flow into Reservoirs 5 and 6 at Mt. Tabor Park to increase storage capability.
1912 Simon Benson donates money to install 4-bowl drinking fountains downtown.
The Portland Water Bureau begins selling water to the City of Gresham as its first major wholesale customer.
1913 A survey group of 11 employees and 4 pack horses investigate the Bull Run, Little Sandy, and Sandy River watersheds to determine how to meet Portland's water supply needs through 1950. In three months the crews consume 400 pounds of fresh meat, 20 pounds of lard, 50 pounds of bacon, 60 pounds of butter, 50 pounds of ham, and 30 pounds of prunes. The survey cost about $10,000.
  A charter referendum creates the commission form of government and the Bureau of Water Works.
1917 A small, 20-foot dam and a dike are built at Bull Run Lake.
1918 The Portland Water Bureau curtails field repairs to conserve materials to support World War I. Nearly 80 percent of bureau employees buy war bonds. A flu epidemic forces offices to close early for weeks. A badly pitted Vernon tank requires painting because boys had thrown stones at it. The last work horse retirees, replaced by a Ford 3/4 ton truck.
1921 Heavy storms wash footings out from under two conduits. Bureau crews dig a 600 foot long drainage ditch that was 15 feet deep.
1925 Conduit 3 increases Portland's daily transmission capacity.
1927 The bureau completes installing meters to all water services.
1929 Dam 1 is constructed. During construction, the Portland Water Bureau begins using chlorine to disinfect the water and protect public health. The consulting engineer responsible for the dam's design, Engineer D. C. Henny, became the consulting engineer on the Hoover Dam upon completion of this project.
The 1930s
Having completed Dam 1, the city has plenty of water to sell, but demand drops precipitously due to the Depression. Summer irrigation use drops 75 percent. By 1932 the bureau discontinues mailing water bills, arranging for laid-off employees to hand deliver the bills to save $5,000 annually on postage. Portland Water Bureau employees originate a plan to contribute one day's pay a month for six months to laid-off city employees. Other city bureaus follow with similar plans. Fiscal year budgets for 1993-34 cut employee salaries dramatically. In 1934 thousands of families depend on charity to pay water bills.
1935 Portland Water Bureau laborers, utility workers, service mechanics and some supervisors receive Saturdays afternoons off for the first time. City employees begin to receive sick leave depending on length of service.
1938 The Portland Water Bureau begins to collect sewer billings as an agent for the sewer utility.
1939 The City of Portland Health Laboratory starts testing for bacteria.
1942 In response to Pearl Harbor, Portland's City Council hires 50 guards to protect the water works system from the threat of foreign invasion. Some employees are sworn in as special deputy sheriffs and police officers. Wartime projects are limited to building tanks rather than large-scale public works to reserve resources for the war effort.
1943 The Portland Water Bureau sells water to 59 water companies and districts.
1952 Conduit 1 is abandoned.
1953 Conduit 4 is completed. Post-war growth in metropolitan area causes occasional water shortages. Planning begins for Dam 2.
1954 Lift gates added to Dam 1 in 1954 increase reservoir storage to 9.9 billion gallons.
1956 A charter initiative to fluoridate water fails. Another one fails in 1962. Voters approve a charter amendment to fluoridate in 1978 but repeal it in 1980.
1957 Portland Water Bureau begins adding ammonia at Headworks to ensure maintenance of chlorine residual. The treatment process is called chloramination.
1959 The City of Portland Engineering Employees Association (COPEEA) formed but did not gain bargaining status until 1969. (Note: name has changed a couple of times).
1961 Clerks begin to use punch cards instead of handwritten ledgers for accounts.
1962 Dam 2 in Bull Run is completed.
1965 A computerized account system replaces punch cards for billing purposes.
1973 Joseph Miller Files Lawsuit Against USFS and City Claiming Logging Violates Bull Run Trespass Act
1974 Congress passes Safe Drinking Water Act.
1976 Judge Burns Decides in Favor of Plaintiffs on Miller v. Mallory declaring logging within the Bull Run a violation of the Trespass Act.
1977 Congress Passes Bull Run Act Which Establishes Bull Run Watershed Management Unit, Management Role of the City with USFS for Bull Run, Hydropower Authority and Water Quality Parameters Necessary for Future Logging.
1981 Powell Butte Reservoir adds finished water storage capacity.
1983 Downtown headquarters move to the Portland Building. The Washington County Supply Line comes online.
1984 Phase I of the Columbia South Shore Well Field is completed. (More info on history of the well field)
1987 Phase II of the Columbia South Shore Well Field is completed. The well field augments supply during a shortage. The City adopted a well field protection plan in response to concerns about potential contamination from industrial pollutants. This plan was one of the first of its kind in the U.S.
1988 Portland Water Bureau accepts responsibility for managing municipal decorative fountains.
1989 City Council established the Water Quality Advisory Committee to receive citizen input and policy advice on water quality issues. The bureau increases chlorine residuals throughout the system to comply with The Total Coliform Rule.
1991 The Phase 1 Regional Supply Plan looks at water demand, conservation, and source options to meet regional water needs through 2050.
1992 A water shortage prompts curtailment and enhanced conservation education. Water demand drops 34 percent. The bureau installs seasonal push-buttons on the Benson Bubblers.
1993 Portland Water Bureau builds a new Water Quality Laboratory and Water Control Center.
1994 Portland Utility Review Board (PURB) provides citizen review to advise Council on utility rate-making and budgeting.
1995 January 2 marks the centennial anniversary of delivering Bull Run water to the City of Portland.  Since 1895, this watershed has provided more than 2 trillion gallons of water to Portland metropolitan area citizens. The worst windstorm is 33 years caused electrical outages at pump stations and other key facilities. Winter brings another major freeze.
1996 February flooding increases turbidity in the Bull Run. From February 8-15, Portland Water Bureau turns off the Bull Run conduits and relies on groundwater from the Columbia South Shore Well Field. This was the first time in over 100 years that the Portland metropolitan area relied solely on another water source. Business and residential customers respond admirably to requests to conserve water and extend the available supply.
  Portland's City Council in November reaffirms the city's commitment to Bull Run as the city's sole primary source of drinking water for Portland customers today and in the future. Council also recognizes the Columbia South Shore Well Field as an important secondary source, to supplement summer supply and provide an emergency source as during the February flood.
  The Portland Water Bureau completes construction of the Forest Park High Tank, Portland's first new elevated tank in 29 years.
  Congress passes the Oregon Conservation Resources Act amends federal Public Law 95-200 to end all logging within the Bull Run watershed.
  Regional Water Providers' Consortium is formed.
1997 Portland Water Bureau continues to improve monitoring programs in Bull Run. These include real-time turbidity monitoring in both reservoirs, negotiating a new easement for operating Bull Run Lake, and participating in the Oregon Resource Conservation Act to extend protections to Bull Run. The bureau begins corrosion control treatment by pH adjustment to comply with The Lead and Copper Rule.
1998 Portland Water Bureau completes the removal of all known lead piping in the water distribution system and implements the Home Lead Hazard Reduction Program. This program focuses on lead hazards in the home, including lead dust in and around older homes once painted with lead-based paint. The program includes leak-risk evaluations, blood-lead level testing for children, and educational materials about lead safety. Treatment of Portland's drinking water to adjust pH continues to reduce corrosion and the lead that leaches from home plumbing into water that stands for several hours in a building's plumbing system.
  The Bureau mails its first consumer confidence report to all consumers.
  In March, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) lists Columbia River steelhead trout as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Since the Columbia River system includes rivers and streams in the Portland area, the City of Portland takes steps to protect salmon and steelhead. The Portland Water Bureau joins a city-wide effort to proactively respond to ESA listings.
1999 The year begins and ends with short periods of elevated turbidity levels in Bull Run due to intense winter rainfall over short periods of time. The City relies on its Columbia South Shore Wellfield to meet customer demand for water.
In March, NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Services) lists Chinook salmon as a threatened species under Endangered Species Act.
  During September and October, the Portland Water Bureau releases additional water each day from Bull Run Lake to study how water temperature affects fish habitat.
2000 With the bureau's technical assistance, businesses reduce water use by 80%, using new technologies, reusing water, changing cooling processes, or using non-potable alternatives.
  Portland Water Bureau initiates a collaborative Wellhead Protection Coordinating Committee with Gresham, Fairview and other agencies to review and update protection programs on the Columbia South Shore.
  Portland Water Bureau convenes the Sandy River Basin Agreement Policy Committee.
  The "go live" of the Open Vision billing system results in delays in customer billings, an inoperable automated debt recovery process, and significant financial challenges. The difficult time which followed included cash-flow problems, curtailed spending, postponed bond sales, and considerable customer discomfort. Though other important work went forward, the problems with Open Vision had an enormous impact on the bureau.
2001 Congress passes the Little Sandy Protection Act as Public Law 107-30 which ends all logging within the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit and increases the total size of the unit.
2002 Citizens provide input to the Bull Run Treatment Decision and a Proposed Bull Run Regional Drinking Water Agency. The Capital Improvement Program includes the Open Reservoir Replacement Project.
2003 After City Council reconfirmation in spring of 2003, the Open Reservoir Replacement Project concerning the reservoirs at Mt. Tabor and Washington Parks focused on designs for park features to go on top of the reservoirs.
  The City adopted a new and improved well field protection plan that greatly expands the protection area and the ability of the city to restrict activities that could threaten groundwater quality.
2004 A severe winter storm in the city and the Bull Run Watershed prompts a disaster declaration. The storm causes 52 mains to break, customers’ pipes to freeze and hundreds of emergency calls to the bureau.
  In April, Moody’s Investor Services affirms the bureau’s Aa1 revenue bond rating, one of the highest possible ratings for a municipality. The bureau has held this rating since 1995.
  In June, American Water Works Association (AWWA) recognized an innovative public-private partnership focused on protecting the groundwater quality of the Columbia South Shore Well Field with a Source Water Protection Award.
  In July, City Council votes to end the Open Reservoirs Replacement Project and to implement an interim security and deferred maintenance program for the open reservoirs based on the 8-5 majority recommendations of an Independent Review Panel charged by Council to review the decision to replace the open reservoirs.
  In August, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) praises the outreach efforts of the Lead Hazard Reduction Program, citing it as a model for lead education.
2005 Customer service functions for water and sewer billing transfer to the City's Office of Management and Finance.
  The Powell Valley Road Water District transitions to the City of Portland as of July 1.
  Lead Hazard Reduction Program wins EPA Children's Environmental Health Recognition for demonstrated commitment to protecting children from environmental health risks.
  Employees develop flow restrictors on the historic Benson Bubbler drinking fountains that reduced flow by 47 percent.
  In response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the Water Bureau sends 60 employees, in two separate, month-long shifts, to New Orleans, to help with clean-up and repair.
  The Water Blog launches, the first of its kind in the water industry.
2006 In preparation for the Portland Water Bureau’s sale of $110 million in revenue and refunding bonds on September 12, Moody’s Investor Services confirmed the Bureau’s Aa1 revenue bond rating for the first lien bonds and an Aa2 for the first issuance of second lien bonds. These are among the two highest possible ratings for a municipality’s revenue bonds. The Aa2 rating for second lien bonds is somewhat like a second mortgage, allowing for more flexibility in rate setting.
  Customer service functions for water and sewer billing transfer back to the Portland Water Bureau effective December 14, 2006.
  Portland Water Bureau implements new programs to open both the budget process and bureau facilities to public access. The new HydroParks program moves forward with HydroParks at Hazelwood and Texas tanks. 
  Portland Water Bureau converted its diesel fleet to B99 biodiesel -- the largest fleet in the nation to run on this sustainable fuel which supports Oregon's economy.
  Cayenta billing system replaces the flawed Open Vision billing system. It works.
  New 10 year and 20 year sales agreements signed with all wholesale customer cities and districts.
  City of Portland files a legal challenge in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals to the US EPA’s LT2 rule.
  Turbidity in the Bull Run watershed causes a 14-day run of the Columbia South Shore Well Field, after a 78-day summer run for season supply augmentation.
2007 Circuit Court of Appeals issues an opinion on behalf of the Court from Circuit Judge Tatel saying: “Because we find the cities’ arguments either meritless, irrelevant, or both, we deny the petition for review.” The city’s LT2 challenge is denied.
  Bureau becomes the first City of Portland bureau to receive bureau-wide SHARP certification from Oregon OSHA.
 2008 City Council approves the bureau's Bull Run Water Supply Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), a 50 year program to maintain regulatory compliance for Portland's water supply system with the federal Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts.
  The Water Bureau launches “I Only Drink Tap Water” campaign to encourage the consumption of tap water.
2009 A new contract is signed to supply wholesale water to City of Sandy (new wholesale customer).
  Portland Water Bureau breaks ground on new, 50 million gallon water storage facility at Powell Butte.