Connecticut River

Swimming or Boating the Connecticut River? This Tool Helps Avoid Dirty Water

The Connecticut River Conservancy offers a way to check E. coli test results from the river and its tributaries

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An online tool can help swimmers and boaters determine if certain New England waterways are safe from bacterial contamination to help them avoid getting sick.

“The Connecticut River often is very clean for swimming and boating,” said Ryan O’Donnell, a water quality monitoring coordinator with the Connecticut River Conservancy, a group that helps maintain New England's longest river.

Before planning outdoor adventures in the river or its tributaries, the Conservancy encourages folks to check out their online tool, which gives swimmers and boaters an easy, color-coded map to check bacteria information from 200 recreation sites on the river and waterways that flow into it. The web tool covers locations in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Animal waste can wash into streams, brooks, and rivers during rainy weather, so the CRC and 20 partner organizations collect samples that are tested for E. coli that can make you sick, the conservancy said.

Here is some advice for swimming in natural bodies of water, like rivers and lakes.

An infection from dangerous types of E. coli can bring symptoms including cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

The conservancy also said the presence of E. coli in water can indicate the possible presence of other pathogens.

O’Donnell said that while river conditions are constantly changing, even a past result can provide clues about how safe the water likely is when you’re heading out.

“What we recommend is going to the site, seeing how a site tends to test for bacteria, what the most recent result was, and if it’s been a dry, sunny stretch and it was last tested during a dry, sunny day, it’s probably about the same,” O’Donnell said. “If it’s pouring, in general, we recommend waiting about 24-48 hours before you dive back into the water, to let that runoff flush downstream.”

In Windsor, Vermont, business owner Craig Carmody said work over the past few decades to cut river pollution has really boosted Vermont’s reputation.

Carmody’s Great River Outfitters rents canoes, kayaks and paddle boards to visitors who appreciate a clean environment.

“It’s good for everything,” Carmody said of a high level of water quality. “It’s essential — it creates more outdoor recreation. We get people from all over, not just New England.”

O’Donnell additionally advised that swimmers and boaters try really hard to not swallow water, in case it’s contaminated with bacteria. He also reminded folks to wash their hands after swimming or boating before they eat. 

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