Big Float puts focus on Willamette
By Christina Williams
Editor, Sustainable Business Oregon
The Big Float aims to change Portland's perception of the Willamette River.
If the Big Float is successful, there will be 2,000 people floating past downtown on the Willamette River this Sunday. But if Will Levenson's vision comes to pass, that will just be the beginning.
Levenson, co-owner of Popina Swimwear and a driving force behind the Willamette Riverkeeper's Big Float fundraiser, wants to change Portlanders' perception of their river, build a beach and make a swimming and floating citizenry a common sight.
"The Willamette is a boogeyman right now," said Levenson, who has helped the nonprofit Willamette Riverkeeper sign up sponsors for Sunday's event including Columbia Sportswear, Google Places, Teva and others.
Levenson said that Portlanders have an exaggerated sense of how polluted the river is. In addition, the city's $1.4 billion "big pipe" project will drastically improve the river's water quality when it's completed by preventing what the city calls "combined sewer overflows," which take place after rainfall of more than 1/10th of an inch.
It was a calculated risk, Levenson said, to hold the Big Float before completion of the east side big pipe. A rainfall like the one Portland experienced Monday morning would have punctured the event's plans.
But Levenson said he's eager to raise Portland's comfort level with its river, a shift in attitude that he says will raise the city's livability index to "off-the-hook."
He's involved in an effort to build an access point for would-be swimmers in Tom McCall Riverfront Park, something he'd like to see happen in five years.
In the meantime, as long as it hasn't rained in the last day or so, the Willamette is safe for swimming, according to the state's Department of Environmental Quality.
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