Archive for category Environmental Quality

Portland Harbor Death Zone: V. 2, with a bonus!

Hillegas-Elting Final Project Map

My final project for the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course I took during the Fall 2013 quarter offered me the opportunity to build upon an earlier project and posit a qualitative and somewhat whimsical question: Where could I have lived in Portland in the 1930s and have been far enough from the river not to smell the stench (say, five blocks) yet close enough to walk to it (say, up to 1.25 miles) during the rest of the year when it didn’t stink? The darker green areas in the map to the right generally show where this would have been possible.

Read the rest of this post for more information about how I created this map and to see the full map with accompanying images and text. Read the rest of this entry »

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My view of the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group meeting, April 14, 2010

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on April 5, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

In a previous post, I reported on a meeting I attended of the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group in December 2009. The present post provides some of my thoughts after attending the April 14, 2010, CAG meeting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Healing Portland Harbor after the clean-up

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Dec. 10, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There is one comment at the original post.]

I went to a Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group meeting last night at which was discussed the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. Tonight there will be a forum for public commentary on the NRDA that was presented last night; I won’t be able to attend this meeting due to prior commitments.

First, an overview of what I learned at this meeting; second, some thoughts spurred by what I learned.

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Complex problems require multiple and coordinated approaches

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Dec. 6, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

As Willamette River Keepers’ Travis Williams writes in Sunday’s Oregonian, “in order to make the Willamette function more naturally and to make it cleaner, multiple actions, involving a variety of approaches, must be taken.” These include the restoration efforts outlined in Joe Whitworth’s recent article.

Additionally, Williams observes that “Given enough teamwork, patience and persistence, we can help create a healthy, naturally functioning and clean river for people and wildlife.” I appreciate this positive attitude. David Charlton, Tom McCall, Ed Averill, William Joy Smith, and many other clean streams advocates held this same view as they worked toward alleviating Willamette River pollution beginning in the 1920s.

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“Rivers and streams are nature’s sewer systems”

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Dec. 4, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Below you’ll find the text of an interesting Letter to the Editor from John Beau in response to the Oregonian article “Evolve or die? It’s crunch time for the Willamette” (that I posted an entry about a few days ago), and a response to Mr. Beau by “dtroutma.”

Considering this Letter to the Editor and the comment to it, I want to discuss four points:

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Portland’s ca. 2009 sewer shortcomings echo Portland’s ca. 1958-1961 sewer shortcomings

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Nov. 12, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are two comments at the original post.]

Francis Storr, 2007, Creative Commons

An Oregonian article from November 11, 2009, suggests that Portland’s expenditures on infrastructure to keep sewage from the Willamette River and Columbia Slough may be insufficient to achieve environmental standards [Scott Learn, “Portland in potentially costly tussle with EPA over sewer plant.”]. To summarize the main points:

1) Portland’s existing sewage infrastructure is insufficient to achieve environmental standards;

2) A government agency is pushing Portland to expend more money on the city’s sewage infrastructure and will hold a hearing on the topic in a couple of weeks;

3) City officials assert that these stipulations are onerous and threaten to push citizen’s sewage disposal costs to exorbitant levels; and

4) This city official asks of the government agency pushing for these changes whether the agency will give Portland credit for the work they’ve already done, “or are you just going to pick up a different bat to hit us with?”

Hmmmm . . . let us enter the time machine now, and go back to the late 1950s (as documented in my MA thesis, “Working for the ‘Working River’: Willamette River Pollution, 1926-1962,” Portland State University, 2009) . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Willamette River solutions, version 2009

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Nov. 30, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Image from National Resources Committee Special Advisory Committee on Water Pollution, Water Pollution in the United States (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939).

There were two noteworthy pieces on efforts to restore the Willamette River in the Sunday Oregonian, both by Joe Whitworth.

The first is titled “Evolve or Die: It’s Crunch Time for the Willamette.” This article begins by noting the rate of snow pack loss in the Cascades since 1955, which directly impacts the flow of the tributaries of the Willamette River and, therefore, the flow of the Willamette, which, in turn, degrades habitat and concentrates pollution. Whitworth concludes the article by describing a new system of managing and fast-tracking stream enhancement projects that could help us rectify stream quality issues in a wide-ranging and coordinated manner. He writes:

the consequences of how we’ve used our watersheds and waterways have come into focus: Runoff of pollutants, erosion and overheated streams mean degraded water quality and impaired aquatic habitat. Because tributaries and rivers operate like veins and arteries, good spots here and there cannot correct accumulated negative impacts. We need contiguous, functioning stream zones that sweep across whole basins if we hope to correct current downward trajectories for fish, water quality and even economic prosperity.

Whitworth’s second article is titled “An Oregon Roadmap for Healthier Rivers.” This shorter article outlines how new technologies and approaches introduced in Oregon to improve water quality can become a national model.

Whitworth describes a watershed-level approach to water quality that has its roots in the efforts of the New Deal National Resources Committee (NRC) from the 1930s.[1] After reviewing below highlights from some of these efforts between the 1930s and early 1960s, a cynic could say that the process that Whitworth outlines and advocates for is just another in a long line of efforts, and yet the river continues to degrade. An optimist might say that our approaches are getting increasingly more refined and, therefore, perhaps we’re finally getting closer to a lasting solution. Based on the historical evidence below, I’ll let the reader decide . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Industry threats in the face of environmental regulation: Crying wolf, or worth heeding?

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on March 26, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are three comments at the original post.]

A few preliminary thoughts on the most recent discussion related to the Portland River Plan (sources cited below):

T. Alan Sprott wrote an OpEd on March 26. He’s the vice president of Vigor Industrial LLC in Portland and chair of the Working Waterfront Coalition. Reflecting on a lack of consensus with the Portland River Plan, he argues that Read the rest of this entry »

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Recent news about the North Reach, Portland Harbor (March-May 2010)

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on June 7, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Below are a string of articles from March-May 2010 on the North Reach plan (documented for my own future reference):

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Portland Harbor Death Zone

Ptld_Harbor_DO_1934

In September 1934, average levels of dissolved oxygen in the stretch of Willamette River through the core of Portland Harbor was functionally zero.

So what?

Healthy aquatic ecosystems require certain base amounts of oxygen available in the water column—otherwise fish, plants, and other organisms start to die off. If the water gets too low in dissolved oxygen it turns anaerobic and supports only organisms like those that thrive in swamps and produce methane and other odorous gases. This is the kind of stench that this guy was complaining about.

Euro American society succeeded in turning the vibrant and dissolved-oxygen-rich lower Willamette River into a smelly, filthy, functionally anaerobic environment in relatively short time. It only took them about seventy years: from the 1850s, when large-scale White settlement began, until the early 1930s. A river system that had been evolving over millennia to support a diverse array of plants, benthic life, and fish life—including the anadromous salmonids—had been converted into a stinking sewer over the span of just one human lifetime.

The image above illustrates clearly how unhealthy Portland Harbor was to aquatic life during the Willamette River’s annual low-flow period (July-October). Read the rest of this entry »

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