One of the most common questions we get asked at Riverkeeper: “Is it safe to swim in the Columbia?”
People-Powered Water Quality Monitoring
We collect water-quality data at popular recreation beaches and share results on Swim Guide, a free mobile app and website. You can check current E. coli levels during the summer, find new beaches, and get directions to swim spots. With support from our members, the East Multnomah County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Bullitt Foundation, Riverkeeper monitors 20 sites on the Columbia River for harmful E. coli bacteria and conducts visual assessments to monitor for harmful algal blooms.
Clean water is a right, and all people deserve the opportunity to swim and fish without fear of getting sick.
Columbia Riverkeeper monitors water quality at popular Columbia River recreation sites. Check current conditions on Swim Guide, a user-friendly app. We collect water samples weekly in the Columbia River Gorge and greater Portland area. We collect samples at most other sites monthly or twice-monthly.
Our water quality monitoring data doesn’t gather dust on a shelf. Riverkeeper staff and volunteers 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).
What is E.coli?
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 system, 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 conduct E. coli testing along the Columbia River in the Columbia Gorge and Portland areas, to ensure the health and safety of river-users and a rapid response to E. coli contamination, if it should occur.
What are harmful algal blooms?
Algal blooms are overgrowths of algae or algae-like bacteria. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are algal blooms that produce dangerous toxins that can make people and pets sick. Cyanobacteria are the most common culprit of HABs in freshwater in the United States. They thrive in warm, slow-moving, nutrient-rich water. Learn more.
So you can swim in the Columbia with confidence!
The app uses real-time E.coli data collected by Riverkeeper staff and volunteers 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.