News Release

For release: Aug. 20, 2009

Marcia Danab, Communications & Outreach, Portland, 503-229-6488
Doug Drake, DEQ Water Quality Program, Portland, 503-229-5350

DEQ Says Willamette River in Portland Safe for Swimming

The Willamette River in Portland is safe for swimming and other recreational uses at most times of the year.


            That’s the answer DEQ gives to the many people who inquire about this topic every summer, particularly when athletic events that involve swimming are about to take place. On Sunday morning, Aug. 23, competitors in the Freshwater Trust Triathlon will swim the Willamette from River Place Marina to just south of the Hawthorne Bridge.


            DEQ monitors water quality monthly at the Hawthorne Bridge. Monitoring during the past decade shows that fewer than three percent of water samples contained unhealthy bacteria levels. Exposure to bacteria is the greatest health concern for people swimming in the river. 


            The Willamette River’s last violation of health standards for water quality occurred in November 2005 because of combined sewer overflows following a period of heavy rainfall. It takes more than an inch of rain in a two to four day period before unhealthy levels of bacteria are likely to occur from sewer overflows. The seven other Willamette River sampling stations from Portland to Eugene show similar results.


            The City of Portland is actively working to eliminate the combined sewer overflow problem. However, because combined sewer overflows and other sources of bacteria have not been totally stopped, people should follow health advisories posted for the river by the Oregon Public Health Division. Avoid swimming after a heavy rainfall.  For health advisories go to


            While it is generally considered safe to swim in the Willamette River, the Oregon Public Health Division and DEQ recommend that people avoid swallowing river water while swimming. After swimming it is advisable to wash hands before eating. It is also advisable to shower after swimming to wash off river water. In general, people should avoid swimming in cloudy water.  These hygiene recommendations can reduce exposure to a variety of contaminants including bacteria.


            For more information, about the Willamette River in Portland go to , or contact DEQ Lower Willamette River Basin coordinator Doug Drake at (503) 229-5350 or


            For more information about recreational water illnesses go to


Return to DEQ Homepage
DEQ is a leader
in restoring, maintaining
and enhancing
the quality of Oregon’s air,
land and water.