Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I missed the boat!

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.[1] 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 . . .

Fortunately, Dennis Newman did heed his planner (or smart phone) and was present on this tour, and he wrote about the tour on the NaturalOregon blog.

I particularly empathize with Newman's section sub-titled "This Is Taking A Long Time." It certainly is! It took advocates about 30 years to get Portland city leaders to build a sewer interceptor and treatment system (ca. 1920-1952), and it took another 15 years after that to get the City of Portland to expand this infrastructure, and then it's taken another 40 years or so to get Portland's leaders to resolve their combined sewer overflow problem. It took about 30 years of activity to get the Willamette Valley's original five pulp & paper mills to begin to take meaningful abatement steps (ca. 1926-early 1950s). It took 12 years of focused efforts to establish a state agency specifically tasked with water quality & pollution abatement (1926 to Nov. 1938), and this agency (the Oregon State Sanitary Authority (OSSA)) was under-staffed and under-funded for most of the rest of the following 30 years before Governor McCall strengthened the agency by morphing it into the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).[2]

As much time as it takes and has taken, fortunately for Portland, and for Oregon generally, in the twentieth century there were a number of critical steps taken to get us at least to the point where we are now. We owe some debt to groups like the Izaak Walton League, League of Women Voters, and Oregon Business & Investors; people like David B. Charlton, William L. Finley, William J. Smith, and state senator Byron G. Carney; state agencies such as the fish and wildlife commissions, the OSSA, and the DEQ; and federal regulations such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund). Otherwise, we would all be utterly overwhelmed by modern American society's deep attachments to petroleum-based fuels and fertilizers, toxic chemicals, wood pulp-based products, over-consumption, the internal combustion engine, impervious surfaces, slow adoption of reuse & recycling, and the idea that running water can purify itself no matter what we put into it. Etc., etc. etc.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step!

[1] Dear reader, please resist the urge to compose a response that is one variant or another of the refrain "if you had a smart phone you wouldn't have this problem . . . " First, I'm not quite ready to make that commitment, and, second, what makes you think I would pay more attention to that than I do my classic planner fashioned from murdered trees and extracted petroleum??

[2] More about all of this, of course, in James V. Hillegas, "Working for the 'Working River': Willamette River Pollution, 1926-1962," MA thesis, Portland State University, 2009.


No comments:

Post a Comment