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Summer on the Willamette River – weekly water quality testing begins for 10th season

Press Release
Want to swim, boat, play in the Willamette River? Water quality is good for recreation. A decade of data show low bacteria levels in the Willamette River - well within DEQ guidelines for water recreation. Find out weekly test results all summer long.

As summer approaches and warm weather returns to Portland, the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services is announcing the return of its popular summer “Check the Rec” program of weekly water quality testing on the Willamette River.

Thanks to the Big Pipe project that eliminated almost all Willamette River combined sewer overflows, the river is clean for swimming, boating, and other recreation.

Two men on the same paddle board in the river, one is kneeling and paddling and the other in back is laying down laughing

How clean? Each week during summer months, Environmental Services tests for E. coli bacteria as well as water temperature at five popular public recreation spots. 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 all summer long.

The first Check the Rec bacteria samples of the season show levels at all five sites are below a count of 120, well under the 406-count health standard set for swimming by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Those results are in line with ten years of Environmental Services data that show 99% of samples within DEQ standards.  Environmental Services began the testing program in 2012 - the summer after the Big Pipe completion - in response to public inquiries about water quality. In the decade since the project’s successful completion, on time and on budget, recreation of all kinds has soared. 

“The Big Pipe continues to make a big difference to Portland and the river that connects us,” said Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who oversees Environmental Services.  “Like many longtime Portlanders, I have seen and experienced an inspiring transformation in my lifetime. Enjoy your river.” 

As part of celebrating the Big Pipe’s first decade of operation, Environmental Services has elevated its sponsorship of the 10th and final year of the Big Float, the July party that draws thousands of people to swim, float, and enjoy the Willamette River. This year’s event is Sunday, July 10th at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. 

In addition to Check the Rec, Environmental Services also publishes the Big Pipe Tracker, an online tool for the public to see how the system fills up during rainstorms to prevent sewage overflows. 

Staying safe on the river

While bacteria levels are low, so are temperatures, with recent recordings under 60 degrees. Cold water is good for migrating salmon and other fish, but water below 70 degrees can be uncomfortable and unsafe for people. 

People are advised to use caution in cold water and follow these additional tips to enjoy the river safely:

  •  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.
  • Keep the river clean. Pet waste is raw sewage and contains high levels of bacteria. Pick up after your pet and leave no trash behind. 
  • Be aware of your surroundings. While the river is free of sewage and harmful bacteria levels, there still can be pockets of exposure from people, wildlife or pets. Water that is stirred up and opaque (hard to see through) during windy or other turbulent conditions may contain small additional amounts of bacteria.  If in doubt, stay out.
  • Check the Rec all summer long at

Environmental Services is Portland’s sewer and stormwater utility. We protect public health and our environment by collecting and recovering resources from the city’s wastewater, managing stormwater, and restoring and protecting Portland’s rivers, streams, and watersheds.