Swimming hole in Hawaii; photo by kezz (deviantART).

It can be very refreshing to take a dip in a river or creek (especially if you’ve got your own secret swimming hole). Many people choose local bodies of water for recreation, where they enjoy various aquatic activities: swimming, fishing, boating, etc. However, some rivers are not safe to explore–the water holds invisible dangers. Here are some things to be aware of before swimming in a local river:

Physical Dangers

Rivers can have rocky, slimy, and uneven bottoms, easily tripping a wader, especially a young one. The river floor may change quickly from shallow to deep. It’s also important to be aware of leg-snarling weeds and the movement of river currents. Don’t forget to watch out for abandoned fishing hooks!


Photo by lightninrod238 (Flickr).

Tainted Water

Most rivers have designated swimming areas that have been determined to be safe for humans. It’s especially important to pay attention to the boundaries when there is a risk of bacterial growth or an increase in pollution, which can happen after heavy rainfall. For example, the growth of algal blooms in the river can irritate your skin, or make you sick if water is accidentally swallowed. Rivers can also be contaminated with E. coli bacteria, which can kill swimmers when left untreated. Besides bacteria, parasites, and pesticides, rivers can be threatened by illegal dumping.

Before swimming, always check the status of the river that you intend to visit, to see if there are any warnings about the quality of the water. Swim only in rivers monitored for recreational activity, since they are studied and maintained for use.

verde river swimmers

Swimming in the Verde River; photo by Ellen Jo Roberts.

Preventative Measures

Before you take a trip to the river, review these possible hazards. It’s important to choose safe places for swimming, especially with children. Always pick areas that are monitored for safety by waterkeepers, park rangers, or lifeguards; you can reduce the risk of accidents or drowning by swimming safely in a clean river.

In addition to picking a clean place to swim, it is important to consider how our actions affect the quality of local rivers. There are many ways that we can help prevent water pollution. It all starts at home, and extends to work and everywhere else we go: by reducing water runoff pollution and pollutive activities (such as driving), we can keep our watersheds cleaner. We can also band together as a community to support local cleanups.

Posted by Mark Contorno

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