Is it safe to swim here?

That’s one of the most common questions Riverkeepers get during the summer.

To help answer that question, Catawba Riverkeeper operates a summer Swim Guide program to test popular swimming areas on local lakes.

What is Swim Guide?
Swim Guide is an international program used by Riverkeepers and other advocates to provide up-to-date recreational water quality data for beaches, lakes, and rivers around the world. Catawba Riverkeeper piloted the program on Lake Wylie last summer.

This summer, we’re excited to expand the Swim Guide to the 5 other major lakes – Lake James, Lake Hickory, Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake, and Lake Wateree – in addition to Lake Wylie.

How does it work?
Riverkeeper staff, interns, and volunteers will collect samples on Thursday mornings, which will be tested for E. coli in the Riverkeeper’s in-house lab. Results will be posted on Fridays in a stoplight system (green, yellow, red), so that you can make informed decisions about swimming over the weekend.

Why test for E. coli?
Recreational standards usually focus on indicator bacteria, which are used to detect the level of fecal contamination in the water. E.Coli is considered a better indicator of human sewage than other types of bacteria because they are found in intestines of warm blooded animals. E. coli is the type of bacteria that local health authorities look for in freshwater. Primary contact with water containing high levels of fecal bacteria and other pollutants can lead to disease, infection, and rashes.

Testing results are¬† posted on our app and social media on Fridays, so you’ll be informed for the weekend. Sign up for weekly text updates here!

Results will also be shared on the national Swim Guide map and will follow a stoplight system to help you easily understand results. Locations that come back with high amounts of E. coli will be marked red.

See the latest results now!

Volunteer as a Boat Captain for Swim Guide 2020!

We’re looking for volunteers to drive their boats to designated spots each week. All supplies will be provided and gas will be reimbursed by Catawba Riverkeeper. Learn more and email Claire Atkins-Davis ( if you’re interested.

 Sponsor a site!

You can cover the costs of sampling one site each week during the summer for $500. Or, sponsor an entire lake for $5,000.


The Riverkeeper’s sample data provides a general guide to the health of the waterway and should only be used for informational purposes. This data does not guarantee the sampled area is safe for swimming at all times. Overall, E. coli levels in the Catawba lakes are low, and the reservoirs are typically safe for swimming. However, E. coli levels can change at any time and increase after rain events. As a general rule, if the water is clear, then E. coli levels are likely to be low.