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Portland’s Big Pipe Is Keeping Poop Out of the River

“Bring it on, Mother Nature!”

Less than a decade ago, swimming in the Willamette River would have been a game of bacterial Russian roulette.

That's because the city's sewer system, which shared pipes with stormwater drainage, was prone to overflowing with as little as a 10th of an inch of rainfall. In the early '90s, according to the Bureau of Environmental Services' website, "an average of 6 billion gallons of combined stormwater and sewage overflowed to the Willamette River and Columbia Slough every year."

But last December, when Portland experienced an "atmospheric river" that dumped 3.1 inches of rain on Mount Tabor and 1.5 inches in the West Hills, there were zero shits to be found in the Willamette.

What changed? The Big Pipe.

Thanks to a $1.4 billion investment from the city in 2011, two massive tunnels on either side of the river now direct your excretions to a treatment plant on North Columbia Boulevard.

"The Big Pipe is working and the Willamette is the big winner," City Commissioner Nick Fish, manager of the Bureau of Environmental Services, told WW in December. "Bring it on, Mother Nature!"

The Big Pipe project now successfully diverts 94 percent of sewage from ending up in the river. Frequent E. coli tests by the city show that bacteria from the small percentage of feces that does escape the sewer does not make the river unsafe to recreate in.

Just remember: "Even though Willamette River bacteria levels are low," the bureau cautions, "it's never safe to swallow water from urban rivers and streams."

1. Because we're not afraid of public displays of affection…

2. Because women are in charge…

3. Because our local theater scene tells true, inspiring Oregon stories…

4. Because Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd make even Blazer losses fun…

5. Because we're still No. 1 in semi-factual superlatives…

6. Because we have a sixth quadrant now…

7. Because the hottest rapper in the game is obsessed with us…

8. Because Oregon is gradually getting more diverse, and in unexpected ways…

9. Because we can work it out…

10. Because we helped jump-start the movement that's changing the tech 
industry…

11. Because if you want to, you can dance to…

12. Because we're so sex positive, you can take a class on…

13. Because we're working to become a bike haven again…

14. Because after walking across Antarctica, I can still come back 
to my favorite dive bar…

15. Because the Blazers' game-day posters are the coolest collectibles in sports…

16. Because our airport is Beervana…

17. Because our fake fast food beats the real thing…

18. Because the Big Pipe is keeping poop out of the river…

19. Because we're making an effort to diversify the cannabis industry…

20. Because we finally have a virtual reality playland…

21. Because we have nicer weather than Hawaii (no, really)…

22. Because Basic Rights Oregon is fighting for LGTBQ+ rights—and winning…

23. Because Portland State's gym just underwent an awesome makeover…

24. …and the courthouse is getting one, too.

25. Because our hotel bars are some of the best bars in the city…

26. Because you'll spend less time in jail here than the national average…

27. Because we make some of the best guitar pedals in the biz…

28. Because our Curry is better than that other Curry…

29. Because we're Raptorville USA…

30. Because ICE hates us…

31. Because everything that dies someday comes back…