‘Groundwater 101’ gives insight to water resource ‘down under’

For many days this past month, we were drinking water out of the ground – not from Bull Run. Learn what students in this class learned about keeping our water safe and wholesome …

“Groundwater 101” classmates start the session by guessing how much of various sources of water are used by drinking – by humans around the world.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The fact it was a cold, foggy Saturday morning didn’t dampen the spirits of a classroom full of folks eager to explore the mysteries and intricacies of Portland’s groundwater system.

“The class is called ‘Groundwater 101’,” explained Briggy Thomas, Education Program Manager at Portland Water Bureau (PWB). “It’s sponsored by the Portland Water Bureau and the Columbia Slough Watershed Council. We teach groundwater basics, including local geology, hydrogeology, what role groundwater plays in Portland’s drinking water system, and what we are doing to protect this important resource.”

PWB Educational Program Manager Briggy Thomas reveals the results of the water survey.

Groundwater used this month
Highlighting the importance of this resource was that, for nearly two weeks this month – including the November 15 class date – the drinking water for the entire Portland metro area was being pumped out of the Columbia South Shore Well Field.

“We had to use the groundwater supply for longer than usual,” the class professor, PWB groundwater specialist, Randy Albright, told us before he began his program. “The heavy rains caused a ‘turbidity event’ in the Bull Run Reservoir. Because we have an unfiltered drinking water system, we use our backup source until the water clears.”

Albright added that this groundwater also provides seasonal argumentation during the dry summer months. “It is the water supply right underneath our feet. It’s important that people know that what we choose to do on the surface of the land can affect our drinking water below us.”

Randy Albright, PWB groundwater specialist, explains that the water being used at this city-sponsored class came right out of the ground beneath their feet.

Safeguarding our water
During the class, attendees learned that water is drawn from 25 wells in four aquifers spread over an eleven square mile area that includes lands in Portland, Gresham and Fairview.

More importantly, Albright told the class why they shouldn’t dump used or leftover toxic chemicals – like weed killers, pesticides, paint, thinners, strippers, wood preservatives, furniture polish, cleaners, or motor oil – onto the ground or into the storm drains. “It percolates into the ground, and finds its way into our groundwater.”

Because potential pollutants “percolate” down through the soil, Albright warns against dumping toxic chemicals and motor oil on the ground or into storm drains.

In addition to the information provided in the NECA-IBEW Electrical Center classroom, the group took a “field trip” to the wellfield, located almost directly across the street.

By the end of the session, those who took the class agreed they understood the water in the ground below their feet in a whole new light.

To learn more about protecting Portland’s groundwater system, see the City’s web site by CLICKING HERE.

If you are interested in learning more free classes and field trips presented by the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, CLICK HERE.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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