Headout: An Ode to the Big Pipe

It took $1.4 Billion to change our stream from open sewer to clean blue dream.

Stretching out deep underground,
it works to keep our river clean
while swimmers race, tubers chain round:
Willamette’s hero, unheard, unseen.

Now as it helps us enjoy summer
o’er a diseased river we need not fret;
the river’s clean, its valiant plumber
a noble Big Pipe we mustn’t forget.

Back when Portland was so young,
into that river Willamette
the people here thought nought and flung
their scraps and trash—everything, dammit.

Water swirled and bred infection,
a situation we could not abide.
At last there came time for correction
to stem the noxious, sordid tide.

In ’51 we got our wish,
a treatment plant where all filth goes.
But such great pain hard rain could dish,
when it brought septic overflows.

Ten billion gallons every year
with waste our river was attacked;
the people couldn’t help but fear,
but then came the Clean Water Act.

In ’91 our champions sued,
the city finally set a date;
raw-sewage leaks would be subdued,
just 20 years we’d have to wait.

With great plans and big investment,
the people stood by with concern,
and after long and slow assessment,
two tunnels would be dug by worm.

Though they had no federal backing,
the pits they dug seemed near to hell;
they kept on through the dirt attacking,
so Willamette could be well.

In oh-11 at last they finished,
and though no different did it look,
the people’s joy never diminished,
for our raw sewage was now cooked.

Now while we boat and swim and race,
with little sewage, sickness, gripe,
a cleanish river does our city grace,
joyous Willamette; thanks, Big Pipe!

GO: River events possible now that the Big Pipe cleaned up 94 percent of the sewage once overflowed into the Willamette include the Portland Bridge Swim, a group swim along an 11-mile route from Sellwood to St. Johns. July 21. 7:30 am. $125-$210. See portlandbridgeswim.com for more information. The Big Float, a group float on inner tubes from Marquam Beach to the Hawthorne Bridge, is July 28. 9 am. $5-$125. See thebigfloat.com for more information.

Willamette Week's journalism is funded, in part, by our readers. Your help supports local, independent journalism that informs, educates, and engages our community. Become a WW supporter.