These last few days of warm weather have brought home once again how clean our rivers are, especially compared to half a century ago. If they weren't, people would not go near them. And as we've seen lately, lots of people do seek out the Willamette and Santiam rivers, among others, to have a little fun in the water when the weather gets hot.
The state Department of Environmental Quality publishes an annual water quality index, which summarizes several pollution parameters. The state monitors them, and then it assigns a score for each monitoring site. The latest report available online, for 2012, rates the Willamette River's water quality as good in Albany and excellent in Corvallis and Salem. Water quality in the Santiam at Highway 226 rates as excellent too. Only the Calapooia River, monitored at Queen Avenue, was called "fair."
The DEQ directly addressed the question of how safe the water is for swimming only in the Portland Harbor, a designated Superfund cleanup site, and there it said the water was generally safe. The state is still concerned with traces of various consumer substances in the Willamette River. But as for wading and swimming on a hot day, our rivers now appear to be plenty safe enough. (hh)