Water Quality Monitoring

Columbia Riverkeeper monitors water quality at popular Columbia River recreation sites. Check current conditions on the Swim Guide app.

Clean water is a right, and all people deserve the opportunity to swim and fish without fear of getting sick.

Our water quality monitoring data doesn’t gather dust on a shelf. Columbia Riverkeeper staff and interns monitor water quality at popular recreation sites and upload data to Swim Guide, a website and app that make it easy to find and learn about popular swim beaches.

Download or search Swim Guide in the app store (for iPhone®, iPad®, iPod touch®, and Android).

People in swim gear walking towards the Columbia River

Why use Swim Guide?

So you can swim in the Columbia with confidence!

The app uses real-time E.coli data collected by Columbia Riverkeeper staff and internsvolunteers to flag Columbia River beaches that are safe or unsafe for swimming. While Swim Guide does not consider toxic pollution or other potential environmental concerns, you can use the tool to avoid beaches with unsafe bacteria levels.

In the Columbia River Gorge, our team collects water samples on a weekly basis at the following sites:

  • Hood River
    • at the Hood River Waterfront Park Swim Beach
    • Frog Beach at the Nichols Boat Basin
    • Nichols Natural Area
    • Event Site
    • Outer Hook
    • Inner Hook
  • The Dalles
    • Riverfront Park (starting summer 2024)
  • Rowena
    • Mayer State Park Boat Ramp (starting summer 2024)

In the Portland Metro area, our team collects samples on a twice monthly basis at the following sites:

  • Rooster Rock State Park
  • Sandy River Boat Ramp at Lewis and Clark State Park
  • Chinook Landing
  • Broughton Beach
  • Kelley Point Park, Columbia River
  • Kelley Point Park, Willamette River
  • Willow Bar, Sauvie Island
  • Walton Beach, Sauvie Island
  • Collins Beach, Sauvie Island

How safe is the Columbia River for recreational use?

State and federal agencies collect very little site-specific data to help you decide how safe a particular part of the Columbia is for swimming. 

Columbia Riverkeeper is a strong proponent of playing in the river! We all have the right to swim, fish, kayak, windsurf, kiteboard, and boat on the Columbia. Unfortunately, in some stretches of the river, toxic pollution and unsafe bacteria levels can make doing so unsafe. Much of the Columbia River is safe for swimming, but use caution.

Protect Yourself on the Water:

  • Rinse off after swimming, and avoid entering the river with open cuts or wounds.
  • Avoid industrial areas and discharge pipes.
  • Check Swim Guide before swimming for current E. coli levels at popular recreation sites.
  • Beware of fast currents and steep drop-offs. Know your limits, and swim close to shore.

Swim Guide at a Glance

Tools to locate the nearest spot to cool off on a hot day. Unique site descriptions and photographs. Data on E. coli levels and information about local beaches. Detailed walking, biking, or driving directions. Simple tools for reporting pollution problems and environmental concerns.

What is E.coli?

E.coli is naturally found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, so its presence in the river indicates fecal contamination.

E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a naturally occurring bacteria that lives in the lower intestines of warm-blooded mammals. E. coli belongs to a group of bacteria, some of which are harmful, known as fecal coliform. Its presence in rivers indicates fecal contamination. Common sources of E.coli include overflowing septic fields and sewage systems, and fecal matter from wildlife and pets.  

E.coli is naturally found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, so its presence in the river indicates fecal contamination.

At what level does E. coli become a concern?

Oregon’s water quality standard says that E. coli levels shall not exceed 406 colonies/100 mL. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had designated a federal standard that no single samples shall exceed 235 colonies/100 mL.  

Why test for E. coli?

We test for E. coli, to ensure the health and safety of river users and a rapid response to any E. coli contamination.