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Oregon Experience

Bull Run

Water Conduit

Water Conduit

Portland Water Bureau

Few other cities in the world have water as pure and as well protected as Portland. For nearly 115 years, an ingenious, gravity-fed system has delivered mountain rainwater from an isolated river called the Bull Run. Yet the rich history of Portland’s water supply has unfolded largely unbeknownst to the people it serves.

For 115 years, Portland, Oregon has enjoyed some of the purest and best-tasting drinking water of any large American city.  The water is diverted from a river in a very wet area of the Cascade Range, a small, isolated watershed with high levels of rain and snow.  The river, the lake that feeds it and the surrounding forested slopes all share the same name:  Bull Run.

The Bull Run watershed drains about 100 square miles. It boasts beautiful views of Mt Hood, lush old-growth forest and one of the prettiest big dams in Oregon. But to protect the water from contamination, the entire area has long been closed to public access.  Bull Run water serves nearly 25% of all Oregonians. Yet this program may be many viewers’ first real look at the source of their drinking water.

“Bull Run” combines old photographs and charts with modern aerial footage and GIS mapping.  Casey Short, author of the only full-length book on Bull Run, recounts its early history.  And Dave Rowley, one of the few people to have actually lived in the watershed, shares stories from his childhood there.

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



Web sites

Portland Water Bureau

Bull Run is also the name of a little known town that once existed on the foothills of Mt Hood.

Make an appointment to visit the watershed

 1907 “Name the Bull Run” contest in the Oregonian

Isaac Smith who led the expedition to identify Portland’s first water source

Frank Dodge and Dodge Park

1897 health report on Bull Run water quality

Portland Hotel menu – putting Bull Run water on the menu

The Oregonian in 1895 on Bull Run

Historic water bureau photos of Bull Run

The music in “Bull Run” was recorded in the OPB studios byThe Bee Eaters.


Broadcast Date: July 22, 2010

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