Willamette River: not safe for swimmers . . . yet
The state releases a Willamette River cleanup blueprint suggesting that the body may not be safe for recreational use for up to 20 years
Published: Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Updated: Sunday, October 17, 2010 07:10
Cold weather shouldn't be the only reason people don't swim in the Willamette River these days. Despite how nice it may look on sunny days, the Willamette is one of the most unsanitary rivers in the nation-and has been for years. The Willamette is in far better shape than it was in the 1930s, but according to KATU.com, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) says it will still be 20 more years until the fecal bacteria is scarce enough that the river is safe to swim in. There are no longer trees and plants to shade the river, which can be attributed to parking lots, housing and farm fields that have been put in along the Willamette. The shade used to stop erosion as well as keep the water cool enough to suit salmon, but now salmon can't survive in the lukewarm water. Nancy Gramlich, the DEQ's Basin Coordinator for the Willamette River, said that it will be 10-20 years after trees are planted for shading to show even the smallest impact. However, it won't matter how cool the river is if there are still warnings on eating the fish in the Willamette, due to a plethora of mercury. A preliminary test showed that 90 percent of the mercury is brought in by natural erosion and air deposition, which could take 50 to 100 years to clean out. Gramlich said that DEQ has a saying, "years to decades, or 10 to 100 years," until the problems are solved. Another major contributor to the problems of the Willamette is storm-water runoff, which, according to Gramlich, comes from natural erosion along shorelines in urban and rural areas. Students at Western are not oblivious to the Willamette's cleanliness issues. "Hell no, I never swim in the Willamette River," junior music major Jonathan Preston said. "Maybe past Multnomah Falls, but never anywhere around here." Luckily for Preston and other area residents, the problem has been addressed. Last Friday, DEQ released a plan for cleaning up the worst of the Willamette River's basin problems. Gramlich said the plan is to promote preservation and restoration for the habitat. There's no quick fix for cleaning a river the size of the Willamette, but an effort has been made. Salem and other local governments will have 18 months to develop plans to improve water quality in their local tributaries and the main stem of the river. Quality may be improved by planting trees and other vegetation along streams to prevent erosion and shade the water. Governor Kulongoski said in a KATU.com report that rehabilitating the river is such a big job that it will be one of the most ambitious environmental projects ever undertaken in Oregon.