PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Water Bureau is celebrating the end of the fiscal year with a big accomplishment that it managed to achieve despite the many obstacles it faced during the pandemic. 

The Bureau broke its all-time record for feet of pipe replaced in a year. Between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, Portland Water Bureau replaced more than 30,000 feet of pipe. The previous record in a year was 28,000 feet and the bureau said it typically replaces about 23,000 feet each year. 

“It takes a lot of work in the chain to get that in the ground, from engineers designing it to our crews installing it in the field,” said Ty Kovatch, director of maintenance and construction at Portland Water Bureau. 

The goal to reach 30,000 feet was set before the pandemic and before Portland Water Bureau knew what complications they would face in adjusting their workflow. 

Kovatch said the Portland Water Bureau established “quaranteams” where crews isolated from one another to help limit the potential spread of COVID-19. Previously, all 161 Portland Water Bureau employees would meet in an auditorium together at the beginning of the day. They would trade crews and ride together in vehicles. The pandemic made them completely adjust their operations. 

“There’s nobody in the world that has not had a hard 15 months,” Kovatch said. “I just think it’s such a great story that our folks were able to persevere through that and still see their way to a goal… I’m really proud of them.” 

Portland Water Bureau installed 30,000 feet of ductile pipe between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. (KOIN)

The new pipe is ductile iron, which is a type of cast iron, but it has an epoxy coating on the outside and is lined with cement mortar on the inside to prevent corrosion. It’s expected to last 250 years in Portland’s soil conditions. 

The Portland Water Bureau is working to get rid of galvanized steel pipes and other pipes that are reaching the end of their life in the next 20 to 40 years. That’s why they set a goal to replace more feet of pipe than ever this year. 

Its next goal is to ramp up to replacing 40,000 feet of pipe in a year. For that, they’ll need a bit of help from contractors. 

“There’s a component of this that will also be in the private sector and we’ll be working side-by-side to annually achieve a goal that’s in the 40,000-plus range,” Kovatch said. 

Kovatch said the pipe replacements they did in 2020 and 2021 were in various neighborhoods around Portland and not necessarily in one concentrated area. He said the bureau’s asset management group evaluates the pipes around the city to determine what’s at the highest priority for replacement.