First Advisor

William L. Lang

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Water -- Pollution -- Oregon -- Willamette River, Water quality management -- Oregon -- Willamette River, Environmentalism -- Oregon -- Willamette River Watershed -- Citizen participation, Willamette River (Or.)



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, iii, 179 pages)


Efforts to abate Willamette River pollution between 1926 and 1962 centered on a struggle between abatement advocates and the two primary polluters in the watershed, the City of Portland and the pulp and paper industry. Throughout the twentieth century, the Willamette was by far the most heavily populated and industrialized watershed in Oregon. Like many other of the world's rivers, the Willamette was an integral part of municipal and industrial waste removal systems. As such, the main stem of the river carried the combined wastes from sewage outfalls serving hundreds of thousands of people and millions of gallons daily of pulp and paper making effluents. Exacerbating the impacts of these pollutants on the Willamette were unavoidable geologic and hydrologic constraints impacting the river's flow and, therefore, the river's ability to dilute wastes.

As the pollution load in the Willamette River increased throughout the twentieth century, accustomed activities such as recreation, sports fishing, and commercial fishing, were constrained. The polluted water also threatened potential uses of the river, such as tourism and expanded recreation after World War II. To address these concerns, beginning in 1926 clean streams advocates created ad hoc groups of public health experts, sanitary engineers, conservationists, sportsmen, and others to pressure Portland officials and industry representatives to cease polluting the river. In November 1938, continued activism and lobbying from these groups led to the passage of a citizen's initiative creating the Oregon State Sanitary Authority (OSSA). From 1939 to 1962, the OSSA took the lead in the water pollution abatement issue and realized some limited successes including pushing Portland and other cities to build sewage treatment plants and regulating pulp and paper mill discharges. However, in spite of these accomplishments, the issue of water quality grew more complex and difficult through the 1950s, as reflected in Tom McCall's November 1962 television documentary Pollution in Paradise.


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