Portland’s beer industry and homebrew tradition is booming, and the reason might surprise you. Portland’s water! Portland tap water is one of the softest in the United States, and what this means is that brewers can easily use it as a base to produce an incredible variety of beers.
Portland is one of a very few cities to not filter their water (although this will change in 2027), and also an exception in America for not adding fluoride to the water. The only treatments to the water are chloramination for disinfection and adding sodium hydroxide to reduce corrosion of aging plumbing systems, which could leach lead.
Portland enjoys safe, healthy water coming from the pristine Bull Run Watershed. However, because of the complexity of distribution – chloramine, lead, as well as other byproducts of chlorine and more can be removed using a filter such as TAPP.
Where does Portland tap water come from?
Tap water in Portland comes almost exclusively from the pristine Bull Run Watershed. Groundwater from the Columbia South Shore Well Field is used as a secondary source and also provides supplemental supply during high demand.
It is not filtered, and not fluoridated.
Chloramine is added as a disinfectant by mixing chlorine with ammonia, then the pH is increased to reduce pipe corrosion by adding sodium hydroxide.
What is in Portland tap water and who regulates it?
Despite efforts to reduce lead leaching, homes built before 1985 are at risk due to the practice of using lead-based solder to join copper pipes. Faucets installed before 2014 are also at risk of containing leaded brass.
Unfortunately, cryptosporidium parasites have been found in the Bull Run Watershed, and the Oregon Health Authority has now obliged the Portland Water Bureau to build a treatment plant, which will be up and running by 2027.
With that said, tap water in Portland is still very safe. In the U.S, tap water is regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), while bottled water which is a packaged good, is regulated by the FDA. Although both the EPA and FDA have similar quality standards, FDA standards are looser in terms of how often bottled water needs to be tested and they do not require companies to share their test results with consumers.
The EPA guidelines are strict but EWG (Environmental Working Group) – a non profit organization, have set their own tougher guidelines, referred to as health guidelines. Visit the EWG website for detailed list of contaminants in your zip code.
According to the EWG report, 3 cancerogenous contaminants above health guidelines were found in “Portland Water Bureau” water. All are below the legal limit set by the EPA and they are Arsenic, Chromium 6 and Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs). Reducing these will reduce possible long-term health risks. Moreover, according to water research by OrbMedia microplastics were found in 94% of all tap water in the United States.
In summary, tap water in Portland is legally safe to drink but to be on the safe side, use an affordable active carbon filter such as TAPP 2. Active carbon removes Microplastics, TTHMs, cryptosporidium parasites and vastly reduces Arsenic and Chromium 6 highlighted as a risk by EWG. To remove Chromium 6 and Arsenic almost entirely then activated carbon should be combined with a reverse osmosis or Ion Exchange filter. TAPP also removes chloramine and other agents associated with foul taste and odor, as well as lead and heavy metals which can deposit via poorly maintained pipes in your building.
Drinking water in public places and restaurants
Almost any restaurant you go to will ask as a default, if you want sparkling water, bottled water or tap. Unfortunately, there are no laws requiring restaurants to serve their customers tap water for free. In some very rare cases, servers have been reported to refuse serving tap water, or forcing patrons to purchase filtered tap water. As for bars, you can also get free water, but you’ll probably need to make a purchase or give a tip even if you don’t order any other food/drinks.
On the other hand, Portland is famous for its iconic Benson Bubblers. There are a total of 126 (including the one-bowl variation), meaning you will find drinking water almost anywhere between 6am and 11pm. Drink right out of the bubblers or take a reusable bottle with you, and fill it up.
Use the MyTAPP app (iOS and Android) to find refill stations around you.
Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Fiji, Mountain Valley, Pure Life, and Smartwater are some of the most popular bottled waters. But don’t be fooled, the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) concluded that an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is just filtered water from public supplies, at a premium price.
The good news is that Oregon leads the way in terms of recycling. The State introduced the Bottle Bill in 1971! This was groundbreaking at the time, and has been replicated in nine other states and Guam. The rates at which people cashed in their bottles and cans has gradually tumbled from 90% averages to under 70% in 2015. The deposit was adjusted from ¢5 to ¢10 in 2018 to give more incentive to recycle and invert the declining trend.
If you must buy a plastic bottle (or any other beverage container) look for the “OR 10¢ ” water bill label. Bringing it to a store could get you up to ¢10 per container.
Using a filter like TAPP, you will never need to use any plastic linked with your water consumption. When it’s time to change the filter, dispose of its biodegradable refill cartridge with organic waste.
- Water in Portland comes from the Bull Run Watershed and groundwater – and is one of the cleanest in the nation
- Portland’s soft water makes it ideal for brewing beer.
- Bottled water is one of the biggest food and health scams in recent history. It’s a waste of money and our nature.
- If you want to know exactly what minerals and contaminants are in your water, drink from the tap at home.
- If you don’t like the taste of tap water, or are worried about reducing TTHMs, Arsenic, Chromium, cryptosporidium parasites or lead, get a high quality water filter such as TAPP 2 with biodegradable filter cartridges.
- Ask for tap water in restaurants and never feel ashamed about it.
- There are hundreds of bubblers around the city
- Get a refillable bottle and keep it filled up with fresh tap water.
- Refuse bottled water whenever possible, or make sure to dispose of it in a recycle garbage bin
Do you drink tap water in Portland? We want your feedback and opinion. Agree or disagree? Tell us!