The City of Portland is known for its bridges and the river that they span, the Willamette. Portland is also known as an extremely eco friendly city. But it hasn’t always been this way. Portland Harbor, located on the lower Willamette River between Sauvie Island and Swan Island, is currently undergoing an extensive cleanup. This area of the river was heavily trafficked by commercial ships for over one hundred years and we are starting to see the repercussions. This site was named a “superfund” site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Being qualified as a superfund site has put Portland Harbor at the center of a number of efforts to clean this area up. The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services was chosen to represent the Lower Willamette Group, a group of Portland Harbor business who have volunteered to help in the first phase of cleanup. Right now they are trying to figure out what the extent of the damage to this area is after such an extended period of pollution.
The long amount of time that this area was used for commercial ships is not the only contributing factor to pollution in this area. The City of Portland owns combined sewer overflows (CSO) that drain into Portland Harbor which could also be contributing to the superfund status of this site. Stormwater runoff is a more serious issue than many people realize when it comes to pollution. It can have a strong negative effect on wildlife and fish in the area.
Portland is currently working with the Oregon DEQ or Department of Environmental Quality to determine the extent of the damage in the area. One of the questions they are trying to answer is whether or not stormwater runoff is contributing to the overall contamination of sediment in the lower Willamette River. They are also working on a strategy for maintaining cleanliness in this part of the Willamette after the cleanup process for this section of the river has been completed.
From a less scientific point of view, we can tell that Portland Harbor is a dangerously contaminated segment of the river based on the level of PCBs found in fish caught there. Special recommendations have been drawn up for this section of the river by the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS). Carp Catfish, and Bass contained the most amount of contamination.
With all of this in mind, it isn’t hard to see how Portland has achieved its status as an eco friendly city. It’s important to remember where we came from, however. Portland’s need as much attention as its future when it comes to environmental issues. Hopefully one hundred years from now the amount of cleanup that will need to be done for our generation will be less than what is required for Portland Harbor.