Importance of groundwater revealed in class and field trip

When Bull Run runs dry, we drink water out of the ground. See what East Portland folks learned from this unique training and trip …

Randy Albright, hydro-geologist and groundwater specialist for the Portland Water Bureau, shows participants exactly where some of their water comes from.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For some time, the Portland Water Bureau and the Columbia Slough Watershed Council have teamed up to present “Groundwater 101″. This class helps unravel some of the mysteries of the “other” source for Portland’s drinking water.

But on November 4, the team gave an expanded training, called “Groundwater 201″ located at the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center.

This workshop started with an in-depth class on our local groundwater sources, using charts, maps and models. The instructors showed the group the importance of keeping the water table clean and usable.

After a light lunch, the participants climbed into a bus for the second half of the event: A tour of the Groundwater Protections Area in outer East Portland.

Portland City Well 14 is the first stop in the groundwater field trip.

Standing on drinking water
Their first stop was at the site of Well 14, out near NE Marine Drive. As participants piled out of the bus, Randy Albright, hydro-geologist and groundwater specialist for the Portland Water Bureau, showed them the lay of the land.

There, Albright told us, “On this field trip, we can show people how things actually look, instead of showing photos, or pointing things out of a map.”

The city has groundwater as its secondary source of drinking water, he added. “It is an important resource for the city. There have been some misconceptions about it in the past. We explain how it functions, and how we’re protecting it for them.

The “how” of protecting groundwater is complicated, as the instructors explain in detail during the class. “The ‘why’ is simple,” Albright said, “We need a good, secondary source of drinking water.”

Not a uniform filter
We learned that the earth and soil, between the top of the ground and the aquifer, varies in thickness.

In Gresham and Troutdale, the layers that can filter groundwater are relatively thick. Yet, in the Parkrose area, this layer is thin, giving little protection to the aquifers below the ground from runoff and contaminated wastewater.

This plant was once a source of groundwater contamination. Now, Boeing is preventing the contaminated groundwater from spreading by pumping it out, and treating it – thus drawing clean water into the area.

Contamination solutions
Looking west, we could see the Boeing Aerospace plant in East County. In the early 1990s, the company was charged with contaminating groundwater.

Albright told the group that Boeing now controls the ‘plume’ of ground contamination around its facility by installing a ring of wells outside the contaminated area. “By pumping out and treating the contaminated water before discharging it into slough, Boeing has created a slightly negative groundwater area so it doesn’t spread into the aquifer tapped by the city’s nearby Well #14.”

Full containment was achieved in 1997, and continues today, he added.

Groundwater protectors
The group then traveled on to Cascade Station, the new development area by Portland International Airport.

Rebecca Geisen, manager of the Groundwater Protection Program, Portland Water Bureau said they’re evaluating whether or not the Cascade Station area development is impacting well fields.

The Cascade Station stop ended with the class touring a stormwater treatment facility. Finally, the class was bussed to the new industrial development area near NE 152nd Ave. and Airport Way.

“The Wellhead Protection Program is important,” Geisen told us, “because it prevents spills of hazardous materials that could contaminate our groundwater. By working with businesses, we’re able to institute best management practices.”

Learn more about your water
Columbia Slough Watershed Council provides a number of programs to help people become more knowledgeable about groundwater, pollution and storm runoff. Visit their website at to learn more.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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