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Swim Guide Offers Clean-Water Map for Columbia River Fun


Tuesday, May 31, 2022   

Ready to make a splash this summer? An app is helping direct Northwesterners to spots along the Columbia River where it is safe to play.

"Swim Guide" provides conditions at popular Columbia River recreation sites, using water collection data about harmful bacteria. Columbia Riverkeeper tests the water for E. coli contamination, a naturally occurring bacteria found in the intestines of mammals.

Lorri Epstein, water quality director for Columbia Riverkeeper, said elevated levels can make people sick when it's ingested, and even cause death.

"E. coli is a single bacteria that we're testing for, but it's actually what's called an indicator bacteria," Epstein explained. "If you find E. coli in the water, it's an indicator of fecal contamination in the water, which then can also indicate that you are likely to have a host of other pathogens present."

Epstein said Swim Guide is downloadable on phones or available on the website She added other ways to stay safe while swimming this summer include rinsing off after getting out of the water, avoiding swimming with open cuts or wounds, and steering clear of industrial areas and algal blooms.

Epstein noted Oregon and Washington both fund monitoring of E. coli on the coastline.

"That funding doesn't transfer over to the freshwater beaches along the Columbia, so that's where Columbia Riverkeeper has stepped in to try to fill that gap," Epstein pointed out.

Epstein emphasized the hope is recreating on the Columbia River will help people feel closer to it, and the worst case is people fear swimming or boating in the river and stay away.

"Then maybe we don't care as much about what is in the river or what kind of pollution is going into it, or cleaning up the river," Epstein remarked. "I think it is a really important tool for people to be able to build that relationship and connect with the river."

Epstein added other ways people can help keep E. coli out of the river are picking up after their dogs and being aware of the chemicals they send down the drain and use on their yards.

Disclosure: Columbia Riverkeeper contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species and Wildlife, Environment, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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