The news says it's not safe to swim in the Willamette today because of sewer overflow. So…it was safe to swim in it before? Seems the river has always had a rap for being unsavory, but details are hazy. What's the, er, poop? —Lamont Cranston

Regular readers of this column are aware of my fascination with local conservation group Willamette Riverkeeper and the fact that its director bears the totally badass job title of “Riverkeeper.” 

Needless to say, this question sent me racing to activate the Riverkeeper-signal, a giant arc lamp that projects the silhouette of a salmon onto the clouds and has a carbon footprint the size of Wyoming. 

Unfortunately, the actual Riverkeeper was out of town slaying balrogs. However, I was able to reach his comely elvish handmaiden, Amy Baur (who doubles as Riverkeeper's development director).  

She assured me that on most days, the Willamette is as pure as a mountain freshet in Rivendell. 

“The river’s water quality is excellent—well, two points shy of excellent,” says Baur. 

The river's bad rap comes from the fact our sewers were designed in such a way that too much stormwater made them overflow into the Willamette. Until recently, this happened about 100 days a year. 

Such days are becoming rarer, though, as the 20-year, $1.4 billion sewer upgrade we've heard so much about nears its scheduled completion this winter. 

In fact, on July 31 Willamette Riverkeeper is sponsoring an event where a bunch of folks will prove this point by floating across the river on inner tubes and then not mutating. You can even join them—see

And pray there isn't a hard rain July 30.