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'Big Float' Celebrates Willamette's Water Quality

Two thousand people marched across Portland’s Hawthorne Bridge in their swimsuits Sunday with flotation devices in tow.

Then they jumped into the Willamette River on the west side, and floated across.

The environmental nonprofit Willamette Riverkeeper organized the Big Float event to celebrate improvements in the river’s water quality.

The 'Big Float' Saturday, courtesy Travis Williams.

Portland resident Naomi Whitmarsh decided to float across on an inflatable raft after seeing a Facebook post about the event. As she climbed onto the dock on the east side of the river, she said she could’ve stayed in all day.

“It was great. Definitely not as cold as I thought it would be. I thought it looked like something pretty fun to do because I’ve thought a lot about how we go to other countries and we look at their rivers and think, ‘Oh it’s too bad they’re so polluted,’ and then we ignore our own river that’s here in our own city,” Whitmarsh said.

Event organizer Will Levenson said many people still think of the Willamette as too dirty to swim in — mainly because of combined sewer overflows. But those are becoming less and less frequent as different sections of the city’s big pipe project come online.

Water testing before Sunday’s float showed the bacteria E. coli were 17 times below the levels of concern for swimmers.

Find more on the story in the Ecotrope blog.