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Did you know that this is Groundwater Awareness Week? Here in Portland, community partnerships are an important strategy for protecting groundwater.
I recently attended an excellent educational event, Slough 101, organized by the Columbia Slough Watershed Council.
The Portland Water Bureau's Columbia South Shore Well Field parallels part of the Columbia Slough. Cleaning up the slough has been a major focus of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, a non-profit organization. The water bureau and the watershed council have a common interest in protecting groundwater (much of the slough's flow comes from groundwater), and we have a long-term cooperative relationship. We work together on several annual public events, including Slough 101, Cycling the Well field, Aquifer Adventure, and Groundwater 101.
At Slough 101, Rebecca Geisen talked about Portland's water system, the role that the groundwater system plays as a back-up drinking water system, and the Groundwater Protection Program. The Groundwater Protection Program has both educational and enforcement elements. It enforces the city ordinance that regulates use and disposal of hazardous materials in the Columbia South Shore Well Field Wellhead Protection Area. Rebecca's group also has an agreement with the Columbia Corridor Association for the latter to provide educational and outreach services to businesses in the protection area that use hazardous materials. The Groundwater Protection Program also provides funding to the Portland Fire Bureau and the City of Gresham to inspect businesses and industries in the Wellhead Protection Area. Rebecca also mentioned that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality manages clean-up of contaminated sites, generally paid for by the responsible parties.
Corky Collier, of the Columbia Corridor Association, talked about the history of trading, commercial, and industrial use of the slough area, and how industries have been encouraged (or required) to take the many steps necessary to clean up the slough, and prevent groundwater contamination.
Two Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) representatives talked about the many things that BES does to promote surface water and groundwater quality. One of the great successes from a groundwater perspective is getting homes and businesses off of septic systems, and connected to the public sanitary sewer system.
Brian Woltersdorf of the Multnomah County Drainage District told the group how they maintained the slough, the levees protecting the watershed from flooding, and the giant pumps used to pump slough water into the Willamette or Columbia River most months of the year. Without the Drainage District, Portland's wellfield, the airport, and hundreds of businesses would be flooded almost every winter.
During the break, I remarked to my daughters, who attended with me, that all these partnerships among public agencies, businesses, and non-profits, each with different core missions and different ways of working, isn't easy - it takes months or years of cooperative work. All that work is a big part of the community effort that protects our groundwater.
Groundwater is the world’s most abundant source of fresh water, and 44% of the United States’ population relies on groundwater for drinking water. We all have a role in protecting this precious water source.
Patrick Easley, P.E.
Groundwater Program Manager