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OBP Documentary Film Details Bull Run, Portland’s Ingenious, Gravity-Fed Water System

By Lindsay Wochnick

Bull Run Lake 
Bull Run Lake 

Starting Monday, February 17th, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) will begin re-airing a 2010 historical documentary titled, “Bull Run.”

The documentary explores the Bull Run watershed, the primary drinking water supply for the City of Portland and its 19 wholesale customers. The protected Bull Run watershed is located 26 miles from downtown Portland in the Sandy River basin on the Mt. Hood National Forest. The 102 square-mile protected Bull Run watershed collects water from rain and snowmelt that then flows to the Bull Run River and its tributaries.

The river drains into two watershed reservoirs, where more than 17 billion gallons are stored. The Portland Water Bureau treats the water before it enters the three conduits that transport it to Portland. The water moves through the system by gravity, requiring no fossil fuel consumption to move water from its intake to the main reservoir at Powell Butte Nature Park, where a second reservoir is now under construction.

The Bull Run documentary combines old photographs and charts with modern aerial footage and geographic information systems mapping of the Bull Run watershed, detailing how it was identified back in 1886 and showing viewers the brilliantly effective system for transporting and distributing water to serve more than 900,000 residents in the Portland metropolitan region.

During the documentary, Casey Short, author of the only full-length book on Bull Run, recounts the early history while Dave Rowley, one of the few people to have actually lived in the watershed, shares stories from his childhood there.

Other contributors to the program include: Catherine Howells, a water historian who teaches a course on the Bull Run at Portland State University; Rick McClure, a regional historian for the U.S. Forest Service; Richard Robbins, retired Water Resource Program Manager for the Water Bureau; and the Water Bureau’s Chief Engineer Michael Stuhr.

On OPB Channel 10, the “Bull Run” documentary will air on the following dates and times:

  • Monday, February 17 at 9:00 PM
  • Wednesday, February 19 at 2:00 AM
  • Wednesday, February 19 at 11:00 PM 
  • Friday, February 21 at 4:00 AM
  • Monday, August 12 at 10:30 PM
  • Wednesday, August 14 at 3:30 AM

The documentary can also be viewed online at OPB’s website

Lindsay Wochnick
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