July 16th, 2012 | by FIONA NOONAN News | Posted In: Environment, Multnomah County

Willamette River is Cootie-Free and Beach-Ready

tom mccall bowlTom McCall Waterfront Park

Forget your fears of growing a third arm on contact with the Willamette River. According to Will Levenson, one of the organizers of The Big Float on July 29, the river is “scientifically 100 percent safe for people swimming in it.”

It's so safe, Levenson says, that he's petitioned the city of Portland Parks and Recreation to create a swimming beach at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

The idea of a beach may seem surprising—or even disgusting—considering the Willamette’s past as one of the country's dirtiest rivers.

However, the city’s Big Pipe project has prevented sewage overflows this year, and the Department of Environmental Quality backs Levenson up on his claim the river is now safe for swimming.

“People really need to rethink their opinion of the Willamette,” says Levenson, who claims that Portlanders tend to unfairly scorn the river based on previous pollution. “It’s like when everyone picks on a kid in school because he has cooties, but no one ever stops to ask, ‘What are cooties?’”

Levenson proposes improving the beachfront in the bowl in south end of the park—the only place people can get to the water.  City officials say they're studying his proposal.

He says the beach will take downtown Portland’s livability “to the next level,” and he hopes to create it by removing rocks that currently cover the sand during an “Unrock the Bowl” event on August 25. 

Levenson also wants the city to place buoys in the water and put up signs about the dangers of swimming near barges. “It’s a public safety issue,” he says.

For now, though, Levenson sees no reason why people shouldn’t (cautiously) take a dip in the river: “Either you’re a complete conspiracy theorist to think that the Bureau of Development Services and the DEQ are trying to get people to swim in polluted water, or it’s actually safe.”  

(Luckily for all the "conspiracy theorists," they can decide for themselves whether or not the river is clean enough by checking out the new water quality web page created by the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services).


 
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