Pirate-themed ‘adventure’ teaches timely groundwater topics

You’ve read here how the aquifer located under outer East Portland near the Columbia Slough provides our back-up source of drinking water. See how this event promotes keeping it clean …

Pirates? Actually, they’re Portland Water Bureau education specialists Jody Burlin, Rebecca Geisen and Briggy Thomas – seen here during their “Aquifer Adventure” event near the Columbia Slough.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
One way the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) helps educate outer East Portland neighbors about the importance of caring for the aquifer – the underground water table near the Columbia Slough that provides our back-up source of drinking water – is by offering lunchtime informational programs. (CLICK HERE to read our article about such an event held during the summer.)

But a couple of weeks ago, the PWB, in conjunction with the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, held their annual family event to express the importance of keeping this natural water resource clean and viable.

Showing off an event commemorative T-shirt is shirt Melanie Hering, a volunteer from Grant High School.

Nora Polk holds her little pirate Makeda. “Our kids love pirates; and we love nature,” says Polk. “So, we’re interested in learning more about groundwater – and enjoying a canoe ride.”

Pirates of the Slough
“We’re engaging young people in activities that teach them about groundwater,” said First Mate Rebecca Geisen – actually, she’s PWB’s Water Resources Program Manager. “We’re helping them learn what aquifers are, and showing them what they can do at home to protect their drinking water.”

The Aquifer Adventure has a pirate’s treasure hunt theme, she told us.  “We find that kids love treasure hunts – and everyone likes pirate-themed events.  We consider our groundwater to be a ‘hidden treasure’. Thus, we came up with our annual Aquifer Adventure program.”

Pirate Kelly Ray (Mulholland), PWB Maintenance & Construction Director fights gallantly – but gracefully acknowledges that he is out-fenced by young swashbuckler, Eli Holstein.

Mixing fun with learning
Some of the demonstrations – like having kids race around a track, carrying gallon jugs of water to help them get an idea of how much water they use taking a 10-minute shower – taught water conservation lessons.

“We’ve added an event for the grownups this year,” Geisen told us. “We’re showing them how they can easily make non-toxic household cleaners. This both saves them money, and helps save our environment.”

About 30 volunteers helped out at six educational stations, including giving canoe rides on the Columbia Slough.

How much water does one use during a 5 minute shower? To illustrate the answer, Ayriahna Bauer learns by carrying these gallon jugs around the track, ten times.

Preserving a Portland water source
The event took place just east of the Columbia South Shore Well Field off NE Airport Way near the bureau’s canoe launch. This well field is metropolitan Portland’s secondary source of sanitary drinking water. (See our story about this system by CLICKING HERE.)  Groundwater in the area supplies these wells, Geisen explained, and the well field can serve up to 800,000 people if service from the Bull Run Reservoir is disrupted.

While the major risk of polluted groundwater comes from area companies that use hazardous materials, Geisen said neighbors also need to be aware of the below-ground water resource.

“Potential pollutants poured on the ground can reach and negatively affect the aquifer,” expounded Geisen. “There are parts of our aquifer that aren’t as deep or don’t have confining layers over them. We’re encouraging people to act responsibly and protect the groundwater.”

Kari Salis, Drinking Water Engineer with Oregon Drinking Program making an “Editable Aquifer” in a glass with breakfast cereal, ice cream and soda.

Do your part
We asked what steps neighbors can take to help protect our groundwater.

“Properly disposing of household hazardous waste through the Metro Hazardous Waste Roundup is one method,” replied Geisen. “Don’t pour chemicals or fertilizers down the drain or the storm drain; don’t let motor oil to seep into the ground. When you clean painting equipment, properly dispose of the latex-paint tainted water or paint thinner – instead of dumping it on the ground.”

Finally, she added that it is helpful for neighbors to reduce their use of lawn chemicals, such as fertilizers. “Most people over-fertilize. If you want plants and boshes, consider planting native greener.”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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