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The Battle of Bull Run

When science meets politics and policy, the outcome may depend more on values than on objectivity

Douglas Larson


Although the Bull Run watershed is now officially protected, the excellent water it once produced is muddied during winter rains by runoff from exposed forest soils and abandoned, eroded logging roads. The Water Bureau attributes the muddiness simply to “torrential rains,” but yearly rainfall patterns and amounts have not changed significantly since 1900. Unable to filter the water to meet drinking-water standards, the Water Bureau is forced periodically to shut down the Bull Run system and switch to backup wells. The shutdowns, lasting two weeks or longer, are becoming a yearly occurrence. Records indicate that the Bull Run system was never shut down during the nearly 70-year period that preceded logging.

Portlanders are now faced with the ugly trade-off of periodically drinking wellwater, the reliability of which is questionable, or installing an expensive filtration system—costing up to 500 million dollars—to avoid shutdowns. This is a legacy of watershed mismanagement and failed stewardship. Centuries will pass before the watershed is fully restored to its pre-logged grandeur.

This article is dedicated to Dr. Joseph Miller Jr., who passed away in June 2007 at age 96. Dr. Miller fought vigilantly and incessantly for 20 years against the U.S. Forest Service and the timber industry to save the Bull Run watershed. For this, the City of Portland and its citizens owe him a great debt of gratitude.

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