‘Pirate party’ promotes slough stewardship

Find out why a non-profit organization and a city bureau team up every year to put on this fun, colorful event – and discover the not-so-hidden treasure of information they’re sharing. Who’s ‘Pirate King Capt’n Davy’ is in real life? Find out right here…

“Sharon the Hatless” Gavon, with AmeriCorps, working with Vista Volunteers, welcomes guests to the 2009 edition of the pirate-themed Aquifer Adventure.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The pirate-themed “Aquifer Adventure” is a fun family event – held at the east end of the Columbia Slough every year. But, the “treasure” the organizers hope to expose to visitors is the drinking water that lies deep below the northern part of outer East Portland.

“The Aquifer Adventure is our annual groundwater celebration,” explained Columbia Slough Watershed Council Executive Director Jane Van Dyke.

“At this event, families can take a canoe ride on the Columbia Slough, hosted by our ‘pirate pals’,” Van Dyke explained. “But it also engages adults and kids in fun activities that help them learn about groundwater, and groundwater protection, and how to be a better environmental steward.”

Pirate Queen “Cap’n Jane Sparrow” (a. k. a. Jane Van Dyke, from the Columbia Slough Watershed Council), shows off her pirate eye patch.

Paddling along in their sturdy outrigger double-canoes, Adventure Pirates take families on guided tours of the eastern Columbia Slough.

Protecting Portland’s secondary drinking water source
It is important to protect groundwater, Van Dyke went on, because it is an increasingly important source of Portland’s drinking water. “Portland does get most of its water from the Bull Run Reservoir on Mount Hood, but groundwater is used when there is less water available from the reservoir. And, more people continually move into the area; they need water too.”

The City of Portland has stringent policies in place for industrial sites above the Columbia Slough aquifer, we learned. But, it’s also up to residential neighbors in the area to be on their best behavior to protect the water below.

The Kurmaskie family, Joe, Enzo, Meatto, and Beth are about to enjoy their ‘eatable aquifer’ treats. As guests spoon layers of cookies, grains, ice cream and soda water into their glasses, volunteers explain how surface contaminants can trickle into the water that lies below.

“Don’t dispose of anything – chemicals or oils – in gravel, in your backyard, or in your alley,” Van Dyke admonished. “Instead, dispose of hazardous materials – including oil, leftover paint, and cleaning products – safely, at a hazardous waste cleanup day.  It also helps to use pesticides and fertilizers carefully – they may sink down into the soil and get into our groundwater.”

In short: “The only safe thing to dump on the ground above the aquifer is water.”

Patrick Morgan, with Metro, shows guests how to make their own cleaners that are inexpensive, effective, and chemical free. “They’re good for people with allergies, and care about the environment, and don’t want to be putting harsh chemicals into the environment.”

Singing lighthearted original songs with serious messages about protecting the ecosystem is Buttercup Bill (right) – backed up by Joe Byrd.

Look for more groundwater to be used
The event was co-sponsored by the Portland Water Bureau, and brought out the bureau’s Director, David Schaff, appearing as “Pirate King Cap’n Davy”, in full costume and regalia.

“We participate because it’s important that people know about this valuable resource, and why it’s important to protect groundwater,” Shaff said.

“The Columbia Slough Aquifer is the second-largest fresh drinking water source in the State of Oregon,” Schaff noted. “As the Bull Run Reservoir draws down at the end of summer, we sometimes have to rely entirely upon the wells to meet the needs of our City. So, keeping pollutants out of the groundwater is very important.”

The Federal Habitat Conservation Plan requires the City of Portland to share water with the native species, the fish,” Schaff told us. “We will, over the next 50 years, use groundwater more frequently than we do. But that’s not all related to fish. Part of it is related to growth, part related to climate change.”

The Pirate King, Cap’n Davy (who, during the week is the mild-mannered Director of Portland Water Bureau, David Schaff) talks scuttlebutt with members of Girl Scout Brownie Troop 41104, from Hillsboro.

The new reservoir now under construction on Powell Butte will give the City’s water supply “a little cushion”, Shaff said. “But, it is designed to replace the open reservoirs [as on Mt. Tabor], under the new federal regulations. When completed, each of the two reservoirs will only hold 50 million gallons. I say ‘only’ because we go through 130 million gallons on just one hot summer day.

“Add in the need for water by new residential and commercial service, and it’s easy to see why we still need to conserve and protect our water supplies,” Schaff concluded.

Tony Green learns exactly how much water he uses, taking a 20 minute shower by carrying two gallon jugs of water around the course ten times. “That’s really a lot of water,” he said.

Slough Council takes ‘comprehensive approach’
As we made our way back to civilization, Pirate Queen Jane Van Dyke confided that she enjoys being part of an organization that is engaged in taking care of our waterways.

“For me, personally, I appreciate the comprehensive approach taken by the Columbia Slough Watershed Council. It’s not just focused on the forest, or salmon recovery. We engage the entire system, as a whole, that makes up our watershed.”

You’re invited to participate. Learn more by checking their website: CLICK HERE.

“Lady Pirate Gerry” (Verhoef, from the engineering section of the Portland Water Bureau) says, “Be kind to your groundwater, or we be look’n’ for ya!”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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