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Science is helping shape the future of Bull Run water

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Water Quality Engineer Mac Gifford shares how we’re using science to learn what works best for our water and help make design decisions for the future filtration facility.
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Tour the filtration pilot with Water Quality Engineer Mac Gifford to see where the magic happens.​​​​

Welcome to the coolest filtration pilot in the country

Water Quality Engineer Mac Gifford's enthusiasm for water is obvious. He knows he has one of the best jobs in the world. As the operations lead for the Bull Run Filtration Pilot Project, he’s collecting data and using science to help answer important questions about what treatment is best-suited for Bull Run water. “I love being able to use science to make important decisions, and I love being able to make clean drinking water that will benefit people’s health,” says Mac.

Tucked inside a non-descript blue trailer at our Headworks facility are the same key treatment processes that will be part of the future filtration facility, just at a much smaller 1/5000 scale. “That’s one of the real values of this project,” says Mac. “Here we are in the Bull Run Watershed pulling water right off the Bull Run River so that we can test what works best for our water.”

Since 2019, Mac and the pilot operations team have been working to answer questions that will help inform design decisions for the filtration facility. They’ve tested the order of certain steps, what size and depth things should be, and how different treatment options work through seasonal changes to our water.

What have they found? “One of the most surprising and beneficial findings is that along with Cryptosporidium removal and other pathogens that we were certainly targeting, we’re also getting a lot of other water quality benefits," says Mac. "That includes reductions in disinfection byproducts—the byproducts of organics that react with disinfectants. This reduction is an improved public health outcome.”

The lessons learned from pilot testing will help make sure the filtration process at the full-scale facility is designed for our unique water source. “That’s what’s incredible about this project,” says Mac. “There’s generations of Portlanders who are going to benefit from the increased public health outcomes that are associated with providing this level of resilience for our drinking water treatment system.”

Thirsty for more? Check out the Science Pub on clean, safe Bull Run water

Kimberly Gupta, describes the filtration process at the April 13, 2021 OMSI Science Pub presentation about the Science of Clean, Safe Drinking Water.

We often don’t think about the water from our tap. Where does it come from and how is it treated to make it healthy and safe? On April 13, Bull Run Supply and Treatment Manager, Kimberly Gupta joined the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) to talk about the filtration process and the steps we’re taking to keep Bull Run water clean and safe.

Go to the event page to see the full video and hear from Kimberly about the science behind clean and safe drinking water—past, current, and what’s coming in the future.

Ready to take a deeper dive? Results from the pilot are informing design of the full-scale facility

Cover of the Pilot Study Report with color photos of people working at the pilot facility.
The Pilot Study Report documents a full year of operating the filtration pilot to understand what treatment is best-suited to Bull Run water.

The Pilot Study Report documents findings from a full year of pilot operation to test what treatment options are effective in meeting regulatory requirements and water quality objectives. The report was submitted to Oregon Health Authority in November 2020 as part of the compliance agreement schedule and approved in April 2021.

Read the Pilot Study Report

The Pilot Study Report appendices can be made available on request.