With summer temperatures arriving early, the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services reminds the public of Environmental Services’ weekly Willamette River water quality testing program.

Since the completion of the Big Pipe Project in 2011, seven years of Environmental Services’ summer sampling consistently shows bacteria levels well within state guidelines, meaning the river water is safe for direct contact through swimming and other recreation.

Each week from late May through September, Environmental Services tests for E. coli bacteria and water temperature at five popular public recreation spots. Tests reflect E. coli from all sources – people, pets, and wildlife. Sampling is conducted on Wednesdays and results posted by Friday morning– in time for weekend activity. The public is invited to “Check the Rec” to view test results.

Media availability – next water quality test: Wednesday 1 p.m. at Portland Boathouse Dock. Additional visuals on Flickr

So far this year, E. coli counts at all sites were under 40, well below the count of 406 that is the health standard for swimming set by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

By contrast, a sewage overflow would show E. coli counts of 5,000 or higher.

So far in 2019, there have been zero sewage overflows to the Willamette.

“The Big Pipe is making a big difference. As sewage overflows have dramatically declined, recreation has impressively increased. A clean river benefits us all – people and wildlife,” said Environmental Services Director Mike Jordan. “People can help keep our river clean by picking up litter, and especially pet waste, which is a preventable source of bacteria.”

Last year, 98 percent of test results showed low bacteria levels well within state health guidelines.

Two results showed slightly elevated levels of E. coli. Additional sampling taken the same day showed low levels, indicating the higher readings were from a temporary source of pets, wildlife, or illicit human discharge.

Swim and Play Safely

A general rule of river safety: While the river is regularly free of sewage overflows and harmful levels of bacteria, there still can pockets of exposure from people, pets (please pick up after your dog) or wildlife. Be aware of your surroundings, and when playing in the river, avoid swallowing river water.

While bacteria levels are the biggest health concern for swimming and other direct recreation, the public also is advised to be alert for trash or any discoloration. Later in summer after long dry spells, a blue-green sheen can indicate toxic blue-green algae. Those instances are rare as well. The state issues algae advisories. Environmental Services issues advisories of sewage releases.

Environmental Services and Portland Fire & Rescue offer these additional river tips:

  • Know the water and know your abilities to stay safe and enjoy the river.
  • Many factors affect safety on the river, including temperature, currents, and debris.
  • The river is cold. Cold water is good for migrating salmon and other fish, but water below 70 degrees can be uncomfortable and unsafe for people.
  • Check the Rec for water temperatures as well as bacteria at www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/ChecktheRec.

The Bureau of Environmental Services provides city residents with programs to protect water quality and public health, including wastewater collection and treatment, sewer construction and maintenance, stormwater management, and stream and watershed restoration. For news updates, follow @BESPortland on Twitter and visit www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/news.


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