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“Polluting Paradise: The Formative Years of Willamette River Pollution Abatement, 1920s-1960s”

My colleagues at the Oregon Encyclopedia invited me to give a presentation on the topic of Willamette River water pollution as part of their History Night series. On Monday, January 14, I gave this talk at McMenamins Mission Theater here in Portland. I supplemented my presentation by showing short clips of Tom McCall’s 1962 documentary Pollution in Paradise and William J. Smith’s 1940 film Pollution in the Willamette. There was a great turnout and I extend my thanks to everyone who attended and to those who asked probing questions in response to my talk.

The McMenamins team did an excellent job on the poster:

Polluting Paradise poster Jan 14 2013

The press release for this event that Tania Hyatt-Evenson of the Oregon Encyclopedia and I collaborated on reads:

    Fifty years ago, Portland’s KGW-TV aired a gripping documentary – Pollution in Paradise – that succinctly summarized the deplorable condition of Oregon’s air and water that had become degraded as a result of more than a century of intensive resource extraction, industrialization, and urbanization. Revered journalist (and soon-to-be governor) Tom McCall produced and narrated the hour-long color film. Appearing during the same era as Edward R. Murrow’s pioneering television documentaries and just a few months after Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, McCall’s film helped convince Oregon citizens and legislators that much more could be done to balance environmental and economic considerations. McCall has rightly been lauded for helping to clean up the Willamette River and, more generally, helping to conserve and preserve Oregon’s environmental treasures. Though an important milestone in the evolving narrative of Oregonians’ relationship to their natural surroundings, McCall’s 1962 documentary came after nearly forty years of sustained efforts to abate Willamette River pollution.
    This presentation will begin with Pollution in Paradise and progress backwards in time to identify the key moments and give voice to some of the many other people who made important contributions to cleaning-up the Willamette. Just as the river’s water quality was not degraded by one person alone, it was not improved solely by one person.

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Not Seeing the River for the Trees

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on July 2, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There is one comment at the original post.]

Below is the text of my presentation proposal for the American Society of Environmental History’s 2011 conference in Phoenix, April 12-17:

    “Not Seeing the River for the Trees: How Place Fostered and Constrained Human Actions Along Oregon’s Willamette River”

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Blogging the ASEH 2010 (pt. 1): Willamette River Cruise

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on March 23, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are also comments to the original post at this link.]

Hawthorne Bridge. 
Image taken while descending gangplank to the tour boat.

This is my first post discussing my experience at the 2010 American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) conference, held here in Portland from March 10-14. This post will focus on the Willamette River cruise on on Wednesday, March 10, from noon to about 4:00 p.m.

I’ll commence with an admission: I spent about two years writing a thesis on the topic of Willamette River pollution, and I grew up on the Oregon coast, but until this river cruise I had not been on the river! Scandalous!! In some sense, however, this doesn’t really mean anything — after all, how many present-day historians of the Civil War were on the field at Gettysburg in the midst of the battle? Nonetheless, there is something to be said for experiencing the actual site(s) upon which unfolded aspects of one’s historical research.

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I missed the boat!

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

On the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 11, the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group (CAG) held its monthly meeting on a boat touring the Willamette in Portland’s harbor. CAG member Jim Robison invited me to this tour in July, while I was out of the state on vacation, and I replied that I would certainly be there.

I had taken a tour of the Willamette this past April, and had earlier biked along the Columbia Slough. I was looking forward to another opportunity to experience the river directly. So, I wrote the tour information down in my planner and settled into another week of vacation in sunny Nebraska . . .

. . . and then I got back to Portland, dove in to the remainder of the Summer quarter with my students, and didn’t think about that tour until week after it occurred.

I got wrapped up in the final week of the Summer quarter, which was the week of the CAG harbor tour, and the date simply slipped my mind. After the quarter was over, I found myself thinking about how fun the upcoming harbor tour would be, so I checked my planner and realized that I had missed the boat!

Let this be a lesson to myself that I can’t juggle 10,000 things without the benefit of my planner, and my planner isn’t any use to me unless I actually refer to it consistently. The cost of this oversight is missing-out on opportunities.

So, having expressed this mea culpa, let’s get to some details of this harbor tour . . .

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River City Confidential: The Willamette River’s Pollution Story Revealed

Still from William Joyce Smith's 1940s film, Pollution in the Willamette, showing two men fishing at a raw sewage outfall in Portland Harbor, ca. Aug./Sep. 1940.

Come one, come all!

“River City Confidential: The Willamette River’s Pollution Story Revealed.”

March 21, 2012 7:00-8:30 pm.

EcoTrust Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, Billy Frank Jr. Conference Center, 721 NW 9th Ave., Portland, OR, United States View on Google Maps

“James Hillegas shares insights from his upcoming book on the original Willamette River pollution cleanup, from the 1920s to the 1970s. Co-hosted by the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group and Oregon Historical Society.”

http://www.portlandharborpartnership.com/news-and-events/?event=787

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