Lunchtime seminar on the Columbia Slough promotes care for groundwater

Last week, you learned our “secondary source” of drinking water. Now, discover how a group works to make sure that the well water that constitutes that source stays usable – and, learn about a fun family event that took place in August, and another coming up at the Slough in September …

As officials from the water bureau serve up groundwater knowledge, Katie Meckes, outreach director of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council readies lunch at their August “Subs on the Slough” event.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Near the scene of last week’s story – about how the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) makes sure we have a constant supply of drinking water, by maintaining a well field in the northern part of outer East Portland – we found a related, fascinating story.

Katie Meckes, outreach director of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council (CSWC) met us a couple of weeks ago just east of the Columbia South Shore Well Field operations center on NE Airport Way at NE 166th Avenue.

“Welcome to our community event,” began Meckes. “We call this ‘Subs on the Slough’. The purpose is to get folks out to the Columbia Slough, tell them about the CSWC, and learn how every-day citizens can help protect the Columbia Slough – and the groundwater below us.”

Canoe landing provides waterborne recreation
Although 35 people signed up for the event, perhaps the prediction of 100° weather kept some folks away – about 20 people gathered in the parking lot.

Even though the sun baked down, and the temperature soared, the walk to our picnic area was comfortable, as we strolled under a canopy of trees.

“The canoe dock is great public access area,” Meckes pointed out was we walked past the floating dock, “It’s a great asset to the community. Thanks to the efforts of everyone along the Slough, there’s great paddling and canoeing throughout the system.”

PWB hydrologist Randy Albright tells why it is vitally important to keep pollutants from running into our groundwater system.

City’s back-up water comes from wells
Meckes turned over the program to Randy Albright, a groundwater hydrologist in the engineering section at PWB.

Keeping the Columbia Slough Watershed clean helps improve the ecology of the area, Albright observed – but the same area is also an important source of drinking water in the greater Portland area.

“The groundwater in this area is our backup system for providing drinking water,” confirmed Albright. Wells will draw out the groundwater in an emergency, he added, when Bull Run water is turbid, or when water use during a hot summer depletes the water stored in the Mt. Hood reservoirs. “We use some groundwater every two of three summers.”

PWB’s education program manager, Briggy Thomas, shows that Portland’s water is provided, primarily, by melting snow on Mt. Hood, captured in Bull Run reservoirs.

Connects surface activities with groundwater
“Surface activities can affect the water in the ground,” Albright explained.  “Most of our aquifers are pretty well protected – they’re well confined and a couple hundred feet deep. There are confining layers [of soil] that help prevent any spills of hazardous materials from percolating down into the aquifers.”

But, the hydrologist cautioned, it’s better to prevent contamination of the aquifers than to restore them after they’ve been polluted.

What you can do
“We’re asking neighbors to be careful, and think about what they put in the ground,” informed Albright. “It starts with your lawn; please don’t over- fertilize them. Use and dispose all household and industrial chemicals properly, so they don’t get into the ground and migrate into the aquifers.”

And, while this should be obvious, he added: “Don’t pour motor oil onto the ground, or down storm drains!”

Some of the “Subs on the Slough” participants climb stairs leading away from the canoe launch area – and toward their “lunch and learn” spot.

‘Aquifer Adventure!’ on Saturday, September 13
Now for the family event coming up in September: Join the Portland Water Bureau and CSWC for a free pirate-themed treasure hunt, and learn how to protect groundwater on your way to finding hidden treasures, on Saturday, September 13th.

“We’re providing activities that include free pirate-guided canoe trips for intrepid treasure hunters and their families,” Meckes said. “There’s live music, hands-on activities, a treasure hunt, prizes, and more. Oh, and be sure to dress like a pirate!”

“Aquifer Adventure” runs from noon till 4:00 p.m. at the Portland Water Bureau Canoe Launch, Airport Way at NE 166th Avenue, on the 13th.

For more information, see their website by CLICKING HERE; or, contact: Katie Meckes at or call (503) 281-1132.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Click Here to read more East Portland News

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