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July 27th, 2011 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Willamette Water Quality Revisited

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall
     
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In last week’s column, you quoted a source who said, “The Willamette’s water quality is excellent.” Oh, really? Look it up: The river is a designated Superfund pollution disaster. It’s not just sewage that makes it toxic. —Craig McP.

Oh, Craig, Craig…you know, I used to fantasize about having a mean-tempered toy poodle named Craig. I wanted to dye it pink and feed it treats and pretend not to notice that it was always trying to bite me. Oh, Craig, you little scamp!

I’m sorry, what were we talking about? Oh, right; the river. I’m aware, as the link you sent me shows, that Portland Harbor is a Superfund site. However, as anybody who’s ever tried to moor a supertanker at the Riverplace Marina can tell you, Portland Harbor doesn’t include the entire Willamette River.

When we talk about “swimming in the Willamette,” I think most people imagine paddling around in the portion of the river that runs from, say, Lake Oswego through downtown, not jumping off a container-ship dock by a metal-fabricating plant in the industrial harbor.

If you were dreaming of Jet-Skiing among the coal barges out by Swan Island, then yes, you’re hosed. But according to Travis Williams, mighty riverkeeper of Willamette Riverkeeper, the rest of the river is more or less fine:

“Unless a person is wallowing in contaminated sediment”—Craig, is that you?—“the Willamette in the downtown area, absent any combined sewer overflow event, is safe to recreate in, and on.”

As we discussed last week, a CSO event is when stormwater splashes poop out of our crappily designed sewer system and into the river, and it’s what the past 20 years of sewer construction projects—which will be complete this winter—are designed to fix. Once it’s done, we’ll have a decent river. Go us.

 
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