Part of what I do as an Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar intern at the Environmental Protection Agency is river sampling. So far, we have sampled the Salmon, Nestucca, and Tillamook rivers. We test for things like bacteria, dissolved organic carbon, and total nitrogen. We sample both upriver and downriver sites along each river. We do this to try to quantify the gradient of pollutants as you go downriver from high agriculture land use areas.
When we are sampling, we always wear gloves since we don’t know what is potentially in the river until after we sample. This has been a very eye-opening activity for me. Before this, I was definitely one to jump into any river that looked decently clear. It felt very weird to be wearing gloves in a river I would normally go swimming or wading in.
It has been very interesting to see the bacteria results from some of the sites along these rivers. I have learned that clear water does not necessarily mean that the water is low in bacteria. Also, I learned that it is important to look at the land surrounding the river as well. If there are bunch of cows visible from the river, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be higher bacteria counts.
While a little bit of bacteria won’t kill you, I will definitely have a different perspective on river swimming in the future.