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Is It Safe to Swim

Updated 2016

The Rivers usually contain a many microorganisms, including algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses. Although many of these organisms may have little effect on people but some microorganisms can cause disease in humans. Diseases most commonly result from certain bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that live in the gastrointestinal tract of warm-blooded animals and are delivered in to the Rivers we swim in, mostly when we have rain events of more than ½ inch or more of rain.

The Water Resources Program (WRP) of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, Environment Division has federally enforceable Water Quality Standards applicable in and around Tribal Waters. These standards are used to determine whether or not a certain levels of a contaminants such as E. coli are impacting tribal use and enjoyment of water resources.

The WRP has a standard operating procedures to follow for the collect of environmental samples including all surface water samples. These procedures dictate the types approved laboratory bottles, sample preservation and holding times. Project plans outline the acceptable analytical methods used by certified contract laboratories and statistical analysis used to characterize the data.

The technician follows a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) to collect water from the river.

Safe to Swim? 
The term “safe” on this page refers only to the risk of incidental ingestion of surface water contaminated with pathogenic organisms. Any swimming area will have physical risks beyond the bacterial level, including depth, clarity, current and submerged hazards. Although not discussed here, these risks should also be considered when deciding on the “safeness” of a body of water for swimming. SRMT determines swimming safety by sampling the water to check for Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. E. coli is commonly found in the intestines of humans and other mammals along with other pathogens. Most strains of E. coli are not dangerous, but they can indicate the presence of other disease-causing bacteria. Since bacteria are living organisms, levels can change over time. Keep in mind that a single sample will only give a snapshot of water quality at the time the sample was collected. Swimming standard for E. coli is a geometric mean less than 126 mpn /100ml.

Contaminated Water  

The risk to swimmers is gastrointestinal illness from the ingestion of river water--symptoms can include headaches, vomiting, and fever, and to a lesser extent infections of the eye, ear, nose and throat. The samples of water do not examine risks associated with parasites (such as swimmer’s itch) nor harmful algal blooms (cyanobacteria).  In highly polluted water, swimmers may occasionally be exposed to more serious diseases like dysentery, hepatitis, cholera, and typhoid fever. Most of these diseases require ingestion (drinking or swallowing) of the infected water, although some can be transmitted through wounds exposed to water. Persons with open wounds should be extra cautious. When in doubt, ask a healthcare professional if you need to take additional precautions.

two pictures
A septic dye test can expose obvious leaks and inadequacies in the system and indicate the need for repairs or alterations.
Before Swimming 

The best way to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal illness is through prevention. Children should be explained that river water is not to be swallowed. Try not to swim in the Raquette and St Regis Rivers after a large rain event. Stay away from known sources of pathogens such as livestock areas and leaking septic systems. To help the Tribe keep our waters safe report known sources of pollution to the Environment Division at 518-358-5937.

The table below summarizes the sampling events at each bathing area. Please note the following notation: geometric mean is similar to average—it represents the typical level of exposure on the sample date; N means the number of samples taken at the site; (Std Dev) means the standard deviation—a measure of how grouped the results are for that sample round; Risk is a qualitative characterization of the potential risk to swimmers expressed as low, moderate, high and very high. 

Low risk means the risk of gastrointestinal illness from incidental ingestion of water is low, but not zero. It does not mean that the surface water is ok to consume. Moderate risk means the levels do not exceed the SRMT standard, but are close to it—extra precautions should be made to prevent the consumption of surface water. High risk means adults and children should avoid entering that water body until water clarity is restored. Very High represents and extreme event and additional hazards need be considered.

Elevated E. coli is typically associated with large storms which stir up sediments and decreased river clarity. In general, as the effects of the storm flow downriver, water clarity is restored and with time E. coli levels return to low. Due to seasonally low river flow and high temperatures, the highest levels of E. coli are typically observed in August. Wait a couple days before reentering the river, in most cases bacteria will flushed out of the area.

Tribal Water Quality Standard 

Swimming standard for E. Coli is a geometric mean less than 126mpn / 100ml.

E. coli Akwesasne Waters 2015
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E. coli in Raquette River 2007 - 2015
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E. coli in St. Lawrence River 2007 - 2015
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E. coli in St. Regis River 2007 - 2015
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The graphs are also available as a Microsoft Sway presentation.  Click on the image to see the results.Sway Presentation

For more information in your area contact the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal Environment office:
Phone: (518)358-5937 or Fax: (518)358-6252  

Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Environment Division