Is it safe to swim in the Coosa?
Every Thursday from the first week of May until the last week of August, our team hits the road to sample the Coosa’s most popular swimming holes. In the field, we look for dissolved oxygen, pH & water temperature, and in the lab, we test for the indicator bacteria for fecal contamination, E. coli. The bacteria samples are analyzed after an 18 hour incubation period and then shared with y’all for free on Friday’s before noon!
Want to be the first to know when the results are in? Text “SWIMGUIDE” to 844-83!
Get the Skinny Before You Dip!
Check out a summary of the 2018 season here!
Having trouble viewing the data table above? Click here!
Want to see what we’re doing to get these swimmin’ holes cleaned up? Check out our 2018 Big Canoe Creek Monitoring Project here!
DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only. All sites monitored are natural waterbodies and contaminants are present from a wide variety of sources! Local conditions fluctuate, sometimes dramatically, and especially after rainfall events. The results displayed above are only representative of the exact time, date and location at which the sample was taken and do not represent the water quality between sampling events or at other locations nearby on the river. Users of this data should not assume that a “low” E. coli level means that it is necessarily safe or risk-free to make contact with the water. E. coli is not the only contaminant of concern for recreational users, and is used merely as an indicator of potential fecal contamination. Coosa Riverkeeper, Inc., their employees, and agents can provide no guarantee of water safety and, as such, the user assumes all risks associated with the use of this data and swimming in the Coosa River Basin. SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK!
The goal of this project is to provide YOU with information about water quality conditions at popular recreation sites on the river. The most common question we get from our members is “Is it safe to swim?” Before this project, there was hardly any water quality data at these swimmin’ holes on the Coosa. Now there is!
Our results only represent a small bottle full of water just below the surface at one instant in time in a large river that is constantly changing. River conditions fluctuate on daily and seasonal cycles. They change dramatically during rain events or pollution events. Generally you will observe that through the hot, dry spells of summer, the results don’t really change a whole lot week to week. However, if it rains after we collect a sample, river conditions will certainly change. Typically they change for the worse, and the extent to which they worsen depends on a lot of factors particular to each site (some sites worsen dramatically, other sites only worsen a small amount). Unfortunately we only have the resources to monitor each of these sites one day a week. We cannot guarantee that water quality conditions are similar to our posted results beyond the date, time and location at which our samples were collected. You can help us collect more samples by donating to Coosa Riverkeeper! This project is made available to the general public only because of our dues-paying members. Thank them by joining them!
You can help by supporting our work financially. You can also really help by spreading the word! Share this page on Facebook or other social media with your friends and fellow river rats.
Most importantly, don’t swim in a stream contaminated with fecal matter. If you have open cuts or scrapes or nasty bug bites, you should be extra mindful of making contact with river water. Additionally, because bacteria levels are higher after a rain event, you should exercise more caution for several days after a big rain. Remember, if it has rained since we took our last sample, odds are bacteria levels are now higher than the posted results.
No. Neither the Alabama Department of Environmental Management nor the Alabama Department of Public Health conduct this type of water quality monitoring program. While this type of testing is performed by the State on our coastal beaches in the Gulf, it is not performed on inland freshwater lakes and streams. We think that’s a shame, so we’re spending our Thursdays in the summer testing your favorite swimmin’ holes to let you know how they are!
The color coding is to help you quickly and easily interpret the data. Our color coding scheme is based off Alabama’s water quality standards for swimming, which are in turn based off EPA studies and set to an illness rate of 36 in 1,000 swimmers (meaning, at the level indicated by the standard, 36 in 1,000 swimmers are expected to contract an illness of some kind). The status is green when it is below 126 col/100mL (the Alabama geometric mean or “average” bacteria standard). It turns yellow when it is between 126 and 235 col/100mL, and red when it is 235 col/100mL (the Alabama single sample standard) or more. You can see that the illness rate of 36 in 1,000 is very conservative in order to protect the majority of swimmers, which means some people might not get sick when a swimming hole’s status is yellow or red. Conversely, some swimmer, especially the young, old or immuno-compromised, may get sick even when a swimming hole’s status is green. There are so many factors, but with Swim Guide you can at least get a sense of how clean your favorite spot is any given week. To learn more, check out this EPA report about illness rates for recreational users.
Samples are collected every Thursday in the summer. We usually publish the basic water chemistry on Thursday afternoons and the bacteria data on Friday by noon. We’d love to expand the weekly sampling season a few weeks in each direction and also keep monitoring in the recreational off-season on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, but we need your support to do that!
Locations being monitored are chosen as popular recreation sites. Some are public parks, others are where canoe & kayak rental businesses operate. Please note that there is not a public access point at every location we test, as some of our sites on the lake are chosen to indicate water quality in a general area where many people live, swim and boat.
A LOT! Our water quality monitoring project typically costs around $30,000 in total expenses each year! That breaks down a lot of ways if you’re interested. Each bacteria sample we collect involves a lot of small things (enzymes, sample bottles, gloves, pipettes, labels, etc.) that add up to about $10 per sample. Our meters aren’t cheap and on top of that we have to buy chemical reagents and standards to calibrate these meters, cleaning solutions to maintain them, and occasionally replace sensor heads and the like. We also have to fill up the gas tank to get out there to sample – plus, buy carbon credits to help offset the greenhouse gases this program creates. We also have to pay our staff and feed our sample collectors. That all adds up to about $50 for each site each time we test it. But knowing that it’s safe to swim in our river? Well… that’s priceless!
Some parameters may not be published if there is a problem with the sample or equipment, or it doesn’t meet our strict quality control standards. We have full faith in the data that we publish, and we do not publish results when the sample was not collected or analyzed in accordance with our Standard Operating Procedures and other Quality Control measures.
The Swim Guide is funded through a variety of sources. Grant funding for this program comes in part from Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama’s Caring Foundation, Mike & Gillian Goodrich Foundation and Honda Manufacturing of Alabama. Additionally, a grant in 2015 from the Coosa Valley RC&D Council purchased laboratory equipment for the program. But still, a critical amount of the funding for this program comes from people like you! You can help fund this project by becoming a member of Coosa Riverkeeper today and giving a tax-deductible contribution to further our work. Your business can also sponsor a site!
We use digital meters in the field which give very precise readings, sometimes to two decimal places depending on the parameter. We clean and calibrate these meters every time we go out to ensure their accuracy. That being said, each of these meters and techniques we use has their own inherent accuracy limitations. So while a value may be reported to two decimal points, the meter itself may only be accurate to 0.05 units. That level of inaccuracy is generally not statistically significant for the parameters monitored. Our bacteria enumeration process is the same that is used by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and is an EPA approved method for ambient water quality monitoring. Though it gives results to one decimal place, the results are a “most probable number” and the actual quantity of E. coli bacteria may be slightly different. We collect duplicates samples for at least 10% of our samples to ensure our bacteria enumeration procedures produce acceptably consistent results (within a 95% confidence interval). It’s also important to remember that a sample only represents a small amount of water at one given instant in one specific location and river conditions are always changing (which is why we report the time the sample was taken). The equipment we use includes: IDEXX Colilert-18 for bacteria enumeration, Hach 2100Q for turbidity, and YSI Pro Plus multimeters for pH, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids, conductivity and temperature. If we find a meter was out of calibration or another aspect of our stringent quality control measures was not met, the results are not posted to this website. However, errors or omissions are possible. While we do take great strides to ensure the quality of our data, users should understand this data is provided for informational purposes only. There is always a risk with swimming in a natural waterbody, and users swim at their own risk.
When there is a “bad” result (low dissolved oxygen or high E. coli, for example), first we double check our equipment and quality control measures to make sure we are confident in the results. Then, we may notify the person who owns the location in which we are testing and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. The results are then uploaded to our website, per usual, and alerts sent out to those subscribed to our alert system. If possible, we go back to that location on Friday afternoon or early the next week to collect another sample. Those results will be posted as they become available. Those results may show water quality conditions have improved, or they may show conditions have not changed or worsened. We investigate pollution sources that are causing bad water quality through our Riverkeeper Program.
“<” means “less than” and “>” means “greater than.” These symbols will appear when a sample result is outside the detection range of the test. This means we know the sample is greater than or less than the value shown alongside it, but we cannot be sure of the exact result because it was outside the range of the test. Our bacteria enumeration technique has a limited detection range and we use a detection range that is most suitable for recreational users while also allowing us to compare the results to state water quality standards.
Thanks to the Following Foundations for their Support: