A chlorine shortage could put Oregon’s drinking water at risk

By Alex Hasenstab (OPB)
June 18, 2021 2:05 p.m.

Drinking water is currently safe, and the public will be notified if it’s not

Oregon is experiencing a shortage of chlorine, the chemical used in small amounts by water treatment facilities to prevent harmful bacteria growth in drinking water supply. State officials say they have a plan to help water districts across Oregon get the chlorine they need if their stockpiles run low and there’s no threat to the water the public depends on.

But city leaders in Lake Oswego and Tigard have asked residents to reduce their water use during the shortage.


The shortage occurred after a power outage earlier this month at the Westlake chemical facility in Longview, Washington, the main provider of chlorine for Oregon.

Matt Marhine, the deputy director at the Oregon Department of Emergency Management, says the shortage is not unique to Oregon.

“[This] is a situation that is occurring nationally as we see shortages and challenges with chlorine distribution and production throughout the country,” he said.

Here in the West, the distribution and production of the chlorine used in water and treatment and wastewater treatment is mostly facilitated out of Westlake. The facility had a power disruption due to a power connection failure, which is in the process of being repaired today.

“We expect to see that that facility has power before the end of the month and production is able to resume and deliveries get back on track,” Marheine said.

Oregon Emergency Management is working with 33 state agencies to keep the public informed of the water status. However, Marheine wanted to make one thing clear:

“The drinking water in the state of Oregon is clean and safe to use and drink,” he said.

The concern is how long the current chlorine supply will last. Most Oregon water districts have around a month’s supply of chlorine, according to Andre Ourso, administrator for the Oregon Health Authorities’ Center for Health Protection.


But some water districts are not in such good standing. The district that supplies water to Junction City has only a seven-day supply of chlorine.

“We can look into transferring some supply if it’s possible to those systems that are in need,” Ourso said.

Other cities with lower supply include Corvallis, with an 18-day supply, Estacada with 16 days, Florence with 16 days, Medford with 14 days, Ashlyn with 14 days, Forest Grove with 15 days and Scappoose with 14 days.

“Some of those systems do have chlorine orders that they’re anticipating coming in early next week as well, and that’s an important detail,” Ourso said.

Ourso says the situation is not dire yet, and state regulators have plans in place in case it gets to that point. Many water systems use more chlorine than needed, according to Ourso. The Oregon Health Authority is prepared to help areas with a low supply conserve their chlorine.

“We continue to focus on situational awareness, and building those proactive plans,” Ourso said.

Marhiene also said that state agencies are working with federal partners to ensure that they are aware and can be available to assist if the state is unable to find a resource. There are even international efforts to work with facilities in Canada as a backup resource.

“We’ve been talking an awful lot recently about the mutual aid opportunities, and one of the challenges with chlorine and the ways that it is provided, it is very difficult to share from one facility to another,” Marheine said.

If water did become unsafe, Ourso said, it would be up to a specific area’s water system to inform the public.

“At this point today we’re still in pretty good shape,” Ourso said. “So I hope that we won’t get to a point where a water system will have to issue a boil water notice.”

As far as conserving water?

“I think at this point people can continue to use water as they usually do for drinking, cooking and bathing,” Ourso said. “As we are in summertime, and we do have some drought conditions, … people should really limit their outdoor use of water.”