Tag Archive for 'environment'

The Portland Challenge

About this time last night, I was gearing up for the Portland Challenge, an adventure I had thought I would be undertaking today. The Challenge:

Undertake a non-motorized crossing of the Williamette River (in the water, not on the bridges).

For boatless chaps like me, this means swimming.

My initial thought was to the distance. It’s a broad river, but I knew I could make it. A fine and worthy challenge I thought, given that the event was a fundraiser for an orphanage in Kenya. Then I remembered learning about the Willamette during an Ecology and Environmental Studies course my freshman year. The Willamette is gross. Gross in a very well-founded, tangible, and chemical sense. The Wikipedia article on the river puts it nicely.

The Portland Harbor section of the Willamette River between downtown Portland and its terminus at the Columbia River is heavily polluted from years of industrial development of the river and its banks. Historical and current activities have included shipbuilding, creosote manufacture, and transfer and storage of petroleum products. State studies in the 1990s identified a wide variety of pollutants in the river bottom, including heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and pesticides.

Later, the article goes further.

In the Portland Metropolitan Area, these issues are exacerbated by Sewer Overflow Events during periods of high rainfall.

As of the fall of 2005, according to my professor, a new pipeline was being constructed so that the sewage didn’t usually overflow, but the capacity here was insufficient, so the raw sewage would spill into the river during heavy rains.

For those of you who do not live in Portland, you probably guessed it. It rained last night. Suffice it to say that while thrilled by swift and profound waters, I was cowed by drifting turds.

Perhaps I will swim the Willamette after it has had some time to flush itself.

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