Every year, untreated sewage flows out of storm drains in Portland, Ore., and into the Willamette River.
"Most of the time, when you flush the
toilet, it goes straight into the river because basically, when it
rains in Portland, the sewers overflow," says Don Francis of the
nonprofit group, Riverkeepers. He estimates that 3 billion tons of
raw sewage pollute the river annually.
state has ordered Portland to reduce sewage overflows by 94 percent
by 2011. The current plan is to build new pumps and pipes to
But City Commissioner Dan
Saltzman says the river pollution isn't only sewer runoff. He
proposes blocking oil and other debris from overflowing into the
river by implementing a series of "green" alternatives. They
include planting trees near streams, increasing public education
and building gardens on rooftops to catch the
"Once we resign ourselves to pipes and
pumps, we defeat the purpose of green solutions," he
Saltzman says his plan also takes
endangered salmon into account and moves Portland toward
sustainable development. But there's a catch: He says he needs nine
more years to put his solutions into effect. Although many in
Portland think he's on the right track, he may have to wade through
deep water to find support.
Langdon Marsh, who
heads Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality, says the city
needs to stick to the state's original timetable, and he also
worries about extravagant costs to taxpayers over the
"Saltzman is trying to railroad an
agenda," says river advocate Don Francis. "People have a right to
use this river now."