Is it safe to swim?

How safe is the Columbia River for recreational use?

Windsurfer on the ColumbiaState and federal agencies collect very little site-specific data to help decide how safe a particular area is for swimming along the Columbia. Riverkeeper is a strong proponent of recreating in the river.  We all have the right to swim, fish, kayak, windsurf, kiteboard, and boat on the Columbia.  Unfortunately, that right has been taken away in some stretches of the river because of toxic pollution and unsafe bacteria levels.  Much of the Columbia River is safe for water contact recreation, but use caution. Safety is never 100% guaranteed, but there are some things you can do to help protect yourself:

  • Rinse off after river-use and avoid entering the river with open cuts or wounds.
  • Swim at least 500ft upstream of pipes discharging into the river.  Oregon and Washington allows pollutants to exceed state safety standards within a designated “toxic mixing zone,” which can extend hundreds of feet around a discharge pipe.
  • Be aware of industrial discharges in your area and avoid toxic hotspots.
  • Before swimming check our bacteria monitoring page for results of current E.coli levels at popular Gorge recreation sites.
  • Report hazardous waste and illegal dumping ,

Water Quality Monitoring

Without water quality data it is very difficult to say with certainty whether or not an area is safe for swimming. Columbia Riverkeeper volunteers work to fill data gaps in state monitoring programs. Because the State of Oregon only samples E. coli on coastal beaches, our inland swim locations are untested for bacterial contamination, despite the high levels of use and recreation. Riverkeeper provides a solution by training volunteers to collect data when the state does not.

Swim Guide

The Swim Guide is website and app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPod touch® and Android (2.1 or higher) that makes it easy to find and learn about your favorite swim beaches.

The app uses real time E.coli data collected by Columbia Riverkeeper volunteers to flag Columbia River beaches that are safe or unsafe for swimming, or have no data. While Swim Guide does not consider toxic pollution or other potential environmental concerns, it is a useful tool for people who want to avoid bacterial contamination.

For more information and to download the app, visit