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The BIG Float on the Willamette River

“Have you been swimming in the Willamette?” There’s a question that will make most Portlanders cringe. The Willamette Riverkeeper organization aims to change that with their first annual The Big Float.

The Big Float

The Big Float happens Sunday, July 31, 2011. The event will start with a parade, and floaters will gather near the east entrance to the Hawthorne Bridge. Then you’ll march across the bridge in all your flotation device-glory, south along Waterfront Park to the put-in point at the beach area under the Marquam Bridge. After paddling across the river in groups of 50, floaters will join the after-party, which includes live music by Ramona Falls, Ages and Ages, Keep Your Fork There’s Pie, Orca Team, and Bull Ramos; and a Kona Brewing Beer Garden.


The goal is to encourage people to “get into the river!”, and support preservation instead of just making jokes about our water quality. In true Portlandia style, the promo video for the event includes a cameo by Portland’s mayor, Sam Adams.

Is it actually safe to swim in the Willamette?

According to Willamette Riverkeeper, “It’s true that in the past Portland citizens have been poor caretakers of the Willamette River. That is no longer the case. In recent years, many efforts have been made that have significantly improved the Willamette River’s water quality. The East Side Big Pipe, which is nearly complete, is one of the many projects helping to make the Willamette River even cleaner by reducing Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) into the river.  The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has stated that when CSO conditions are not present, ‘the Willamette River in Portland is safe for swimming and other recreational uses’.”

Bottom-line: Until the East Side Big Pipe is complete, after a heavy rain, stay out of the water for a day or two, other than that, it’s safe to be in the water.

Will you be swimming in the Willamette this year?

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