A Century-Old Portland Water Main Turned Into Old Faithful, and It Could Take Several Days to Fix

It's part of a crumbling utility infrastructure that has long caused headaches—and sewage-soaked basements—for Portlanders.

Portland Water Bureau officials expect repairs to stretch into this week after a 30-inch cast iron pipe burst Saturday morning and sent millions of gallons of water flooding into Northeast Portland streets.

Portland Fire & Rescue says water gushed from the pipe at an astonishing 1 million gallons per minute. The pipe burst at NE 23rd Avenue and NE Skidmore Street.

Rhetta Drennan, a Water Bureau spokeswoman, told OPB the 30-inch pipe was installed in 1915. That makes it part of a crumbling utility infrastructure that has long created headaches—and sewage-soaked basements—for Portlanders.

Portland Water Bureau spokeswoman Jaymee Cuti says that the age of the pipe was a factor in the main break, but the official cause of the break is still not determined.

Water officials spent much of last night trying to stanch the flow enough to excavate the pipe. Water service hasn't been effected, because the pipe is a transmission main and not a service man, bureau officials said.

"We have continued to make gains against water flow, but more is needed," said Maintenance and Construction Director Ty Kovatch in a statement. "The work will take time. We will get it done!"

First responders arrived on the scene around 11:30 am Saturday, as the broken main began gushing like a geyer.

Twelve homes were initially evacuated due to basements flooding, though those residents were allowed back into their homes later in the afternoon.

The Portland Water Bureau said that the tap water in the affected areas is drinkable, although it might have some harmless sediment in it.

At around 1 pm, Pacific Power cut electrical service at the request of the Portland Fire Department to parts of Northeast Portland following the flood, with approximately 10,000 residents still without power as of 4 pm. The outage ran from Northeast 18th Avenue to Northeast 47th avenue, and from NE Thompson to Columbia Boulevard.

In a statement, Pacific Power said that "power restoration will be very labor intensive and may take more time than a normal power outage."

By 7 pm, gas and power was restored.

"We cannot stress this enough: stay out of the water," Mayor Ted Wheeler said at a 2 pm press conference. "Let people do the work they need to do to address the situation as quickly as possible."

Open manhole covers and potentially contaminated water were cited as reasons residents should not wade in the water.