Luncheon talk highlights Portland’s other water source

Here’s the opportunity to see what folks learned at this year’s “Subs on the Slough” event about our drinking-water wells. And, check out the pirate-themed event they’ve planned for September …

Heading toward their “Subs on the Slough” destination, the group hikes along the Columbia Slough under the NE Airport Way viaduct.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Most Portlanders know their water comes from melting Mt. Hood glaciers and snow – draining into the Bull Run Reservoir, and then flowing into town by gravity. But, many are still are unaware that the Portland Water bureau also maintains a backup network of wells along the Columbia River.

At their “Subs on the Slough” luncheon this year, guests got to learn more about the Columbia Slough Groundwater Protection Program. The main speaker, Portland Water Bureau Water Resources Program Manager Rebecca Geisen, filled in participants – after they walked from the canoe launch at NE 166th Avenue, north under NE Airport Way, to a park-like well-site.

“It’s true,” Geisen confided before the program, “people don’t know that we have a secondary source of water here in the Columbia south shore. The purpose of events like these is to educate people about our alternate water supply.”

Outreach worker Haley Dillon, and Executive Director Jane Van Dyke from the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, hold a map – while the Portland Water Bureau’s Rebecca Geisen talks about the Columbia Slough Groundwater Protection program.

More important, Geisen added, is letting people know about actions they can take to help protect this water supply. “We have a regulatory program out here with requirements for business that use and store hazardous materials; it focuses on containment and waste minimization.”

But Geisen said she hopes the average person who lives and works in outer NE Portland will also learn why it’s important to responsibly dispose of household chemicals, and to keep used vehicle oil from seeping into the ground or running into a storm drain. “It’s using common sense – like cleaning up your animal waste, and not rinsing out paint brushes and rollers on the ground.”

Typically, the City’s drinking water comes exclusively from Bull Run. “But, when the water there becomes cloudy or turbid, we’ll blend in up to 30% of water from our wells. During our summertime maintenance tests in late August, we ran a 5% blend of groundwater for 10 days or so.”

Sees increased groundwater use in future
Geisen said that another reason to keep our groundwater as clean as possible is that the U.S. and Oregon Fish & Wildlife Service offices’ “Habitat Conservation Plan” will cause the Water Bureau to use more groundwater in the summertime, to raise the water level in the Bull Run River for endangered fish like salmon and steelhead.

Columbia Slough Watershed Council also took part in the event. “Part of our mission is to help educate people about their own neighborhood, their watershed, and what’s going on,” explained Executive Director Jane Van Dyke.

Melissa Sandoz, Outreach Director Columbia Slough Watershed Council, prepares the luncheon for the group.

Aquifer Adventure is next
On September 12, the Columbia Slough Watershed Council is again teaming up with the Portland Water Bureau to present “Aquifer Adventure: A Groundwater Treasure Hunt”.

“We’ll be saying, ‘Ahoy thar, matey!’ once again from noon until 4:00 p.m.,” Van Dyke smiled. “It’s a free, pirate-themed treasure hunt, in which kids and adults will learn how to protect groundwater, while searching for hidden treasure.”

Events will include building an “edible aquifer” out of ice cream and cookies, transforming oneself into a molecule of water and traveling through groundwater, and racing against the clock while learning about water conservation.

There will be food for purchase, prizes, and free canoe rides led by “real” pirates.

Aquifer Adventure is suitable for all ages, and no registration is required. Come prepared to walk, explore, and learn fun facts about groundwater. Volunteer opportunities are also available by contacting Haley at the Columbia Slough Watershed Council (503) 281-1132, or e-mail It’s out on Northeast Airport Way at NE 166th Avenue. (east of the groundwater well field complex).

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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