Water Bureau implements corrosion control system to balance Bull Run water

The Portland Water Bureau has made some changes to its treatment program, which it says makes the Bull Run water supply safer when it comes to lead contamination.

PORTLAND, Ore. — On a fittingly rainy day recently, KGW got a tour of some new equipment that’s part of better protecting the health of nearly a million people who use Portland’s water.

“Exactly what makes the Bull Run so wonderful — that there’s nothing in it — is what makes it so corrosive,” said the Portland Water Bureau’s Kimberly Gupta.

Gupta, who is the bureau’s water supply and treatment manager, said that the problem with corrosion is that it attacks any lead-based plumbing that remains in homes and businesses.

In November of last year, the Portland Water Bureau revealed that water at a number of area homes had tested well above the EPA’s regulatory level for lead. Because of the Bull Run’s natural corrosiveness, the water can leach the metal from lead-soldered pipes and certain faucets — so while the city’s water supply isn’t the root of the problem, it does contribute to the problems posed by piping installed in homes during certain periods.

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Gupta said that by adding small amounts of two naturally occurring substances, pH and alkalinity are adjusted, making the water from the Bull Run watershed less corrosive without affecting the safety of the water supply.

The day KGW toured the Lusted Hill treatment facility near Sandy, a truck load of soda ash was being delivered. It is one of the substances the bureau is using.

There are two silos that hold the soda ash, which is similar to baking soda. From there the substance is mixed with water from the system.

A large horizontal tank holds the other ingredient, carbon dioxide, which is injected into the water as well.

“So that’s going to help reduce the corrosivity of Bull Run water to help decrease the amount of leads that could come into our water from some home and building plumbing,” said Gutpa.

Adding this equipment and treatment program to the existing facility came out of an agreement with federal regulators in 2016. The city recently started adding the substances in steps to test its effectiveness at neutralizing the corrosiveness of the water.

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And if you’re worried about noticing a difference in taste, Gupta says you don’t need to be.

“Nobody wants the wonderful Bull Run water to change,” Gupta said, “it’s great, we love it the way it is — no, the taste from Bull Run water will not change.”

That’s important, because Bull Run water is pretty popular.

“We’re the best,” quipped Gupta. “OK not fair, I may be biased. A lot of folks have really great water quality but we’re fortunate to have some of the best water quality in the world.”

The Portland Water Bureau’s next major investment is a new water filtration facility that will remove the microorganism Cryptosporidium and other potential contaminants. Federal regulators require that to be completed in 2027.

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