Water Quality Concerns

I paddle the Upper Delaware River where we’ve had three, Hundred-Year-Floods in the last two years.

Today, I read a article in the local paper saying that there in NO single agency responsible for post flood event testing of water contaminants. The article went on to say that a risk to human health could exist.

How seriously do my fellow paddlers take water quality issues?

I do a lot of racing and some of them
have been in some dubious river waters, and my criteria is if the water seems suspect get a good soapy shower ASAP after the race.

With that said, I will paddle in a rotten looking river but a public hot tub for me is a no no.



I have often been in Georgia rivers
after floods, and have never come to harm. Probably I have gradually built up some resistance over decades. We had a problem in Atlanta with the Park Service exaggerating the infection risk of the Chattahoochee after rains. Recently they backed down and toned down the warnings.

I have talked to many fishermen and boaters and have hardly found any convinced that they had been infected by rivers.

The studies the government relies on to predict infection risk seem to have been done on beach-using populations at variable distances from sewage outlets. Whether that data can be extrapolated to flooding rivers is open to question.

Thanks for the great advice.

great threat on nose plugs

Personally, I wear nose plugs and goggles when rolling in lakes/rivers. Otherwise, a post trip shower is more than enough. Don’t worry in the ocean.

In most areas, sewage treatments plants are built as CSO (Combined Sewer Overflow) facilities. Both sanitary wastewater and storm water flow into the same treatment plant. That means that when it rains a lot, the facilities by design simply bypass the excess wastewater directly into the receiving stream without treatment. Fecal coliform levels skyrocket, posing health risks to humans as well as to fish and wildlife during these CSO events. The risk is probably proportional to population and dilution water, but in any event I’d certainly avoid immersion when paddling after a flood near any metropolitan area. As others have suggested, also take a good shower after paddling.

I crossed Atlanta on Peachtree Creek
after a big storm, and I had to wade often to pull the boat past logs or sewer lines. Absolutely no aftereffects.

Back in '63, I flipped my single scull in the Charles River basin. At that time, Boston routinely discharged raw sewage into the river. One could see mats of toilet paper and feces floating in the river at any time of year. Anyway, although my hands were blistered with open sores from rowing, and although it took me 20 minutes to swim the boat to shore, I suffered no ill effects whatsoever.

I’m not recommending that the young, the old, or the immunologically infirm get into dirty rivers. But I also don’t want healthy adults to miss out on great river experiences by concern about infection that is not solidly backed up by true risk statistics.

Poop Soup
This is not limited to urban areas. The run off from pastures and feedlots after a heavy rain can make for a pretty nasty soup especially in lakes. As a canoer I don’t worry too much with proper precautions but as a dog owner it’s a concern.

Right now I just wish we would get any amount of rain. Our entire state has been declared a disaster area.

That’s cool, but I doubt many would consider “mats of toilet paper and feces floating in the river” as a great river experience. At least I wouldn’t.

I remember some athletes competing at Lake Springfield (IL) came down with this one year…


beautiful Victoria
on Vancouver Island is, IMHO the best sea kayaking city in the world. the water is rich with marine life and there are lots of exciting places to paddle, currents, rips etc.


this quaint little city has a very big, not so secret: barely strained sewage, 150 million liters a day is pumped into the Juan de Fuca straight. it is carried away and dispersed by the constant tidal flow but it is none the less disgusting and a black mark for the city. the province of BC announced yesterday that the city now has 1 year to come up with a treatment strategy, thereby forcing this issue which has been brewing and stewing for years.

a good day for Victoria.

by the by, few people claim that they get sick from the water, but some kiteboarders, which surf near the outflow (as do some sea kayakers) do.

am i concerned? you bet. i want to paddle and roll at will in the big ol sea, and i’m not thrilled about doing so near where my shit goes. the ocean is big, yes, but let’s not take it this far.

WOW, You guys are really opening
my eyes. Can’t thank you enough!

Boston must’ve had cleaner sewage.
We rowed over it, and got splashed frequently. We threw the coxswain into the river on those rare occasions when we won a race. Illness was quite rare. Yet when two oarsmen took a brief dip in the Connecticut River while we were training at Dartmouth, they both had GI illness the next morning.

are a simple precaution in dubious water. They help dry things out and kill the nasty critters that can cause ear infections.

I’d worry in some parts of the ocean
beach front. On all coasts, from time to time, there are beach closings and fish consumption advisories because of run off after heavy rains.

Polluted Rivers
Iowa’s rivers have some of the highest nitrate levels in the US. Could it be pig shit from all those hog factories (excuse me: hog farms). Nah! According to the Iowa Farm Bureau it’s all caused by city folk putting too much fertilizer on their lawns and golf courses. Admittedly a contributing factor, but in my opinion not much of a factor compared hog lots.

In addition to the hog lots, agricultural runoff adds enormous amounts of fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides to our rivers.

If you want to know about a major source of river pollution on the Jacks Fork below Eminence, just ask thebob or wildernesswebb about the huge commercial horse stables along the river at Eminence. Of course according to the stable owners the horse shit pollution in the Jacks Fork is not caused by those stables housing thousands of horses, it is caused by the small band of about 20 wild horses on the Jacks Fork and Current river2.

Took a good long look at the water today
Before the flooding it was teaming with tiny little fish, now they are gone. The water used to have shellfish, now there’s none. The water was clear to the depth of my hips but now it’s cloudy, brown and merky looking.