U.S. Water News Online
CANAL FLATS, British Columbia -- Christopher Swain stepped
into the Columbia River and began a 1,250-mile journey that will
eventually spill him out, 180 days later, into the Pacific Ocean.
Swain plans to swim the entire length of the Columbia to raise
awareness of its pollution levels and to encourage a cleanup.
``That river called to me,'' the Portland, Ore., man said. ``I've got
a relationship with that river that I feel I need to honor by going
into that river as an act of respect.
``If I'm going to try to catalyze an effort to clean up this whole
river, I need to get in there and develop the credibility that you
can only get by tasting every mile.''
Swain, 24, began his watery trek at Columbia Lake, near the British
He faces considerable hazards. There are rapids to navigate and
tricky currents where the Columbia meets other rivers such as the
Pend d'Oreille or the Snake on the U.S. side.
Nearer the mouth of the river there are container ships to dodge, as
well as sharks where the river meets the sea. And there are personal
watercraft, barges and pleasure boats.
There are also the 14 dams. That means Swain will be swimming his way
through a long series of still-water reservoirs.
``They've effectively taken the river out of the Columbia,'' Swain
said of the dams. ``It's become a long necklace of overheated lakes,
and more than 900-plus miles of slack water.''
Swain also has to contend with poisons and toxins from industrial
sites, which he said make the Columbia one of the most polluted
rivers in North America.
``I'm going to be swimming through water that runs with everything
from arsenic to zinc,'' Swain said.
``It's just a matter of picking your poison. Heavy metals we've got,
radioactive isotopes, human sewage we've got.''
Swain admits to some apprehension about the health risks of six
months of six- to eight-hour days in the water.
``What's in my favor is that I'm not a fish, I don't live in the
water,'' he said. ``I can create a barrier between myself and the
water, but stuff can come in my mouth and nose.
``I'm looking at a situation where I have to get out of the water and
gargle with hydrogen peroxide, for example.''
Swain said he's been doing endurance athletics in some form or other
since he was 12. He has been training for this swim since October
Swain plans to break each day at lunch and take every third or fourth
day off. A support team, including an inflatable boat, will accompany
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