- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

CHERRY GROVE, Ore. (AP) - The Tualatin River is the primary drinking water source for hundreds of thousands of Washington County residents. By late summer every year, however, it’s difficult to fathom why.

Along some stretches, the river drops only about an inch per mile, giving it the look and feel of a warm, dark soup. Hardly a body of water that looks capable of slaking the thirst of the fastest-growing county in the state.

By contrast, the upper reaches of the Tualatin, are something else entirely, although most people would never realize that because entry to those mountainous stretches is restricted.

Three of the county’s five commissioners, accompanied by a dozen officials from various county agencies, got a rare look at the upper Tualatin recently and came away with renewed awe for a river whose upper portion could not be more different from the sluggish, mile-per-hour slough that most associate with the Tualatin.

“There are a lot of people who rely on this little stream,” Commissioner Greg Malinowski said. “It’s such a precious resource.”

Behind him, a torrent of swirling whitewater cascaded over the naturally formed basaltic spillway of seldom-seen Haines Falls. The water crashes into a deep pool below before heading downstream for a similar tumble over Upper Lee Falls.

It’s also here that efforts were underway more than a century ago to create power for the county’s early 20th Century residents. Remnants, partially buried in riverside soils, still exist of the metal boiler built near the top of Haines Falls. Water taken from the falls was turned to steam by fired wood. The steam, in turn, ran a generator that produced electricity, which ran through wires to the burgeoning valley below.

“It was one of Oregon’s earlier long-distance electrical transmission lines,” said Tom VanderPlaat, Clean Water Services’ water supply manager. “Quite a marvel of its day.”

Nearby, at the top of a small hill ringing a placid, three-acre lake, an 18-inch-wide pipe sucks water that is then conveyed by pipe to a nearby treatment facility. It is one of the city of Hillsboro’s two main drinking-water intake pipes.

“It’s an impressive system they have up here,” Commissioner Andy Duyck said, peering down into the intake. “You really have to see it to understand how impressive the whole system is.”

A final stop on the tour came at the Fernhill Wetlands in Forest Grove, where the planting of more than 750,000 native shrubs, plants and trees over the past year is furthering efforts to naturally filter and clean Tualatin River water.

More than 1 million gallons of partially treated water daily is pumped out onto the wetlands from pipes leading to Clean Water Services’ Rock Creek treatment facility in Hillsboro. Locals refer to the concrete structure out of which all that water flows as “the champagne bubbler.”

The native plants now taking root here will, in turn, mature to the point that they will eventually send millions of seeds coursing into the downstream reaches of the Tualatin.

“That this area will act as a native seed bank is a pretty stunning thought,” Commissioner Dick Schouten said. “That, all by itself, is quite a takeaway from this trip.”

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The original story can be found on The Oregonian’s website: http://bit.ly/1LhMIrS

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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