Water Quality Monitoring Program

Get Involved: Program Options

  • Riverkeeper water quality volunteersSummer Shoreline Monitoring

  • Year-round Baseline Monitoring

  • E. coli Monitoring

  • Temperature Monitoring

  • Toxics Monitoring

Summer Shoreline Monitoring

Summer Shoreline Volunteers wade into the river every summer during the months of June, July, August, and September to monitor the shorelines of the mainstem Columbia because they are considered important habitat for juvenile salmonids (salmon and steelhead) migrating downriver. Healthy shorelines support the primary food source for juvenile salmonids by providing logs, falling leaves, plants, and algae. Algae is an essential food source for insects, snails, and clams, collectively known as macroinvertebrates, which, in-turn, are eaten by juvenile salmonids and other wildlife. Improving shoreline habitat is a long-term goal of Columbia Riverkeeper in an effort to help boost juvenile salmonid survival to the ocean up from the current rate of only 12%. Our efforts also assist in the continued protection of the six Threatened salmon runs and five Threatened steelhead runs in the Columbia Basin, as designated by state and federal environmental laws.


Year-round Baseline Monitoring

Year-round Volunteers brave the Northwest rain and weather to gather baseline data once per month from key tributaries and mainstem docks year-round. With climate change and extreme storm events, year-round baseline data helps us evaluate temperature trends and impacts from floods and erosion. Year-round monitors sample monthly from February through November.


E. coli Monitoring Program

Thousands of people swim in the Columbia River and its tributaries each summer (and some of the hardcore windsurfers go all year round!), but it is hard to say whether harmful bacteria levels are safe without regular monitoring. Columbia Riverkeeper volunteers monitor for E. coli, an indicator of fecal bacteria, at least once per month at a variety of recreational beaches from June through September. Our volunteers also monitor tributaries of concern year-round (February-November).Riverkeeper volunteers began testing for E. coli in 2007 in coordination with a loan of E. coli processing equipment from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. E. coli must be processed within 24-hours of collection, so monitoring is currently only focused in the Columbia Gorge near our Hood River office headquarters to allow for our staffs’ timely processing of samples. In 2010, volunteers in Wenatchee, WA monitored E. coli at major swim beaches in Rock Island Reservoir as well. Our data indicates that E. coli is generally not a problem in the mainstem of the river in the Columbia Gorge, however, our regular monitoring is key to the prevention and timely clean-up of accidental spills and sewage leaks. Learn more about Riverkeeper’s E. coli Monitoring Program.


Temperature Monitoring

The entire mainstem Columbia River has been identified as being too hot for salmon comfort and survival in the summer months. Temperature is most affected by flow rates and the availability of shaded tributaries; however, with increased water use, deforestation, dams, and irrigation, temperatures in the mainstem Columbia continue to exceed the state-designated standard of 68°F almost every summer during the months of July and August. Higher temperatures make salmon much more susceptible to disease and encourage predators, such as bass and pikeminnow, to flourish. The state agencies have recognized the issue, however, a Columbia Basin-wide plan to decrease temperatures continues to remain stalled. Columbia Riverkeeper has taken action by deploying continuous temperature loggers to better understand the problem and to push state agencies to initiate a basin-wide temperature strategy. Learn more about temperature issues on the Columbia.


Toxics Monitoring

Data on specific toxins found in the Columbia is collected only by “advanced” volunteers with an accredited scientist present. Samples are sent to an accredited science laboratory for appropriate analysis. Columbia Riverkeeper is uniquely suited to respond quickly to emergencies and raise red-flags for further research due to our widely spread membership across the Basin. Currently, Riverkeeper volunteers and staff have sampled the river, clams, and sediment for toxins including various heavy metals, PAHs, and PCBs. A targeted study is also currently underway to sample actively used pesticides, flame retardants, various plastics, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products, that are deposited directly into the Columbia from major urban areas and stormwater runoff throughout the basin. Riverkeeper is also participating in a Columbia River Toxics Reduction Working Group being led by the Environmental Protection Agency. Read the Environmental Protection Agency’s State of the River Report for Toxics in the Columbia Basin and learn more about federal efforts to clean-up dangerous toxins like radioactive wastes and chemicals from the Hanford Nuclear Site, heavy metals historically deposited in Lake Roosevelt at the Canadian border, and carcinogenic PCB’s built-up in sediments behind the Bonneville Dam, in Vancouver Lake, and in the Portland Harbor.