Groundwater learning made fun at ‘Aquifer Adventure’

See hundreds of families having fun in outer East Portland as they learn about the Columbia Slough, and about groundwater protection …

In the Wilkes neighborhood, it was one of the largest turnouts in recent memory for the “Aquifer Adventure”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Way out on NE Airport Way, in the northeast edge of the Wilkes Community Group neighborhood, this year’s fun-and-education water celebration brought out a record number of families. On Saturday afternoon, September 14, people flocked to this year’s Aquifer Adventure, put on by the Portland Water Bureau (PWB), and by the Columbia Slough Watershed Council (CSWC).

By participating in games and demonstrations, families learned about the importance of groundwater to Portlanders – as a secondary, yet vital, source of drinking water – at the pirate-themed event.

Dread Pirate Dastardly Doug” – actually, PWB Groundwater Protection Program Manager Douglas Wise – explains how water is drawn up from the ground with pumps, like the one next to which he’s standing.

“This year, 830 people attended our afternoon celebration, making this year our largest Aquifer Adventure ever,” said PWB Groundwater Protection Program Manager Douglas Wise afterwards.

“The biggest change at Aquifer Adventure in recent years was our effort to make it accessible to more members of our community,” Wise told East Portland News.

Volunteer Noely Lopez helps find a correctly-sized event T-shirt for guest Mattox Riner.

Visiting from nearby Gresham, River and Paul Boyer experience just how much water is used in taking a brief shower, by carrying gallons of water – in an activity appropriately called, “The Long Haul”.

“This year, we advertised it in English, Spanish, Russian, and Vietnamese; then, we translated the ‘Treasure Map’ into these additional languages – and, with the help of the CSWC, we were able to recruit multilingual volunteers to help attendees explore the event, too,” Wise reported.

More than just an organizer, Wise was also a participant – stationed at a pump station, informing guests about groundwater.

“Pirate” hosted canoe rides in the Columbia Slough proved to be the most popular activity at the Aquifer Adventure.

Among other things, visitors learned:

  • Portland and many neighboring cities rely on groundwater as a source of drinking water.
  • The Columbia South Shore Well Field groundwater supply helps Portland get through long, dry summers, and provides drinking water when the Bull Run supply is unavailable due to emergencies or other situations.
  • Everyone can help protect our groundwater supplies by using safer alternatives to hazardous cleaners, using and disposing of all household chemicals safely, and making sure only rain goes into our stormwater drains.


Showing off the “permanently reusable drinking straw” kit, given by him as an award to those following the “pirate map” and visiting all of the exhibits, is “Gangplank Gabe” Gabriel Mehr – a volunteer who attends Central Catholic High School.

Asked about the most unusual question he’d fielded, Wise thought a moment before replying. “There was a youngster who asked me whether fish could live in groundwater. The kids looked a little disappointed when I explained that groundwater typically has very little oxygen, which fish need to breathe, and the fish would have to be super-small to squeeze through the compacted sand and gravel that make up our aquifers!”

Helping visitors understand how the ground holds water are volunteers Juan Cortez and Zemzem Hussaen with the Oregon Zoo Zap Team.

“But, I’m sure they perked back up when they hit the ‘Edible Aquifer’ station, where they created and got to enjoy an ice cream and soda treat!”

Learn more about Portland’s underground water resource, and the Columbia South Shore Well Field that extracts it, by visiting the PWB’s official webpage: CLICK HERE.

© 2019 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News



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