Officials: Fires not threatening Bull Run water supply

PWB prepared to switch over to groundwater wells along Columbia River if need arises

The Bull Run Reservoir (Portland Tribune file photo)
The Bull Run Reservoir (Portland Tribune file photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — The Portland Water Bureau says the fires in the Columbia River Gorge are not currently threatening the Bull Run watershed, the primary source of water for much of the region. Ash is not falling in the Bull Run Reservoir and the fires are not yet near distribution pipes or other infrastructure, either, the bureau says.

Tuesday afternoon, the PWB said the Eagle Creek Fire and Indian Creek Fire entered the Bull Run Watershed, but neither is near the driving water reservoir or water supply infrastructure.

“Water from the Bull Run continues to be safe to drink,” the afternoon statement said.

People living within 20 miles of the reservoir have been told to be prepared to evacuate if the fires come closer.

As a precaution, the bureau has postponed all non-critical work in the watershed to minimize risk to staff and property.

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The bureau says it has been working closely with all local, state and federal agencies fighting the fires since the Indian Creek fire started in July. On Monday, Oregon Gov. Gov. Kate Brown briefed Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of the bureau, on the status of the fires.

“I am thankful for the close working relationship with our partner government agencies, said bureau director Michael Stuhr.

The bureau is also prepared to switch over the city’s groundwater wells along the Columbia River if the need arises.

In fact, the announcement came at a time when the water level in the Bull Run reservoir drops so low that turbidity becomes a potential problem, prompting the bureau to consider blending it with Columbia South Shore Well Field water.

The announcement also comes a little over a month after the City Council voted to spend up to $500 million to build a filtration plant that can remove ash from wildfires and silt from landslides from Bull Run water. It will take around 10 years to complete, however.

The decision was prompted by the need to fight the cryptosporidium parasite in the Bull Run watershed. The council could have chosen a less expensive ultraviolet plant, but chose the filtration option in large part because it could remove so many more contaminants from the water.