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Protecting Portland’s primary source of drinking water from 4,430 feet

Blog Post
a fire lookout tower stands on a flower covered mountaintop with a wide horizon
The Portland Water Bureau looks to renew its successful partnership with the US Forest Service to strengthen fire protection in the Bull Run Watershed.
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On Wednesday, April 20, the Portland Water Bureau asked City Commissioners to renew its Intergovernmental Agreement, and Council will vote on the agreement on April 27. The agreement allows the Water Bureau to share the costs of staffing the Hickman Butte lookout tower with the US Forest Service. Continuing this partnership will allow the Water Bureau to deliver on its mission of being dedicated stewards of the Bull Run Watershed, Portland’s primary source of drinking water. About one million people get their drinking water from the Bull Run Watershed. 

The current Intergovernmental Agreement would expire in April 2022. Renewing these services for five years would continue the Water Bureau’s partnership with the US Forest Service through 2027. 

Prior to the Water Bureau and US Forest Service reaching the Intergovernmental Agreement in 2007, the Hickman Butte Lookout tower relied on volunteers. The volunteer-based program couldn’t guarantee an experienced, qualified person would always be available to work the entire fire season. With the Intergovernmental Agreement in place, Portlanders have benefited from the same experienced person staffing the Hickman Butte Lookout tower every fire season for more than 15 years.  

About the Hickman Butte Lookout tower 

It takes 53 steps from the ground to climb up to the Hickman Butte Lookout tower. Once there, US Forest Service contractor Jim Kelly enters the 196-square-foot cabin that he’s called home every fire season for more than 15 years. Hickman Butte is in the southeast corner of the Bull Run Watershed within the Mount Hood National Forest. The lookout was built in the early 1950s and for seven decades has stood 45 feet above the butte, allowing staff to spot and react to wildfires. The lookout is one of approximately 88 fire lookouts that remain in use in Oregon.