Defeat the Heat: Officials urge safe beach use, paddling preparedness

KITEBOARDERS enjoy swells on the Columbia River on a warm Wednesday evening. Temperatures are expected to climb over the weekend, peaking Sunday at an expected 102 degrees.

Photo by Patrick Mulvihill
KITEBOARDERS enjoy swells on the Columbia River on a warm Wednesday evening. Temperatures are expected to climb over the weekend, peaking Sunday at an expected 102 degrees.

High nineties and climbing, forecasts say for the Columbia Gorge this weekend.

Hood River faces temperatures around 98 degrees Saturday, with no tailing cooldown — Sunday may rear up as a scorcher in the triple digits.

As the summer tourism season comes into full swing, swimming and water sports become popular methods to beat the heat. (For an update on dry land recreation at the Waterfront Shoreline Trail, see A11).

A first step in swimming safety comes with preparedness.

An emergency access plan at the waterfront, introduced by the Port of Hood River, includes eight zones, marked on signage. Landmarks from west to east are: 1: The Hook, 2: Waterfront Park, 3: Event Site, 4: Nichols Basin/Slackwater Beach, 5: The Spit, 6: Marina Beach, 7: Marina Park, 8: Boat Launch.

In the event of emergency, call 9-1-1 and indicate which point you’re closest to.

Lorri Epstein, Columbia Riverkeeper water quality manager, offers a set of guidelines for swim safety.

“We hope you enjoy the river and stay safe this summer,” Epstein said. “While it may appear calm, the Columbia is a powerful river, and swim beaches don’t have lifeguards. Parents should watch swimming children closely.”

Epstein noted, “The river can have swift currents and water depths can vary. It’s always a good idea to wear a life jacket.”

Her pointers include:

• Beware of fast currents and steep drop-offs.

• Know your limits and swim close to shore.

• Don’t swim alone or under the influence of alcohol.

• Avoid industrial areas and discharge pipes, and avoid swimming in urban areas after heavy rains.

• Shower after swimming; don’t swim if you have open cuts or wounds, and don’t drink the water.

• Check the “Swim Guide” app for up-to-date E. coli levels at popular recreation sites.

Health conditions

Riverkeeper, an environmental conservation group based in Hood River, routinely take water samples from the Columbia and the Hood River, via its water quality monitoring program. Volunteers test for E. Coli bacteria at their office lab, and the results are posted on Swim Guide.

“Our goal is to try to encourage people to use the water,” Brett VandenHeuvel, Riverkeeper executive director, said, while also keeping the public aware of risks and points of caution.

Hood River’s most popular swim beach, Event Site, has cropped up as an area of concern.

There, a handful of samples for E. Coli have shown higher levels than usual this summer, exceeding state and federal safety standards, VandenHeuvel explained. Swim Guide listed the beach as red this week, or a caution area.

E. coli is a naturally occurring bacteria that lives in the lower intestines of mammals. The bacteria is necessary for digestion of food but its presence in rivers can indicate fecal contamination, and can be harmful.

VandenHeuvel said the group isn’t sure what has caused the elevated E. Coli levels. Many possible sources, such as pet waste or sewage entering the waterway can contribute to the issue. Test readings can fluctuate.

The Swim Guide warnings at Event Site don’t mean people must avoid the waterfront, he said. However, it forms a caution where visitors should stay updated on swim conditions before choosing when — and where — to recreate.

“It’s not a ‘do not swim’ (situation). But take precautions,” VandenHeuvel said.

Paddling, boating rules

Amid prime paddling season, Oregon State Marine board advises that motorized boats aren’t the only vessels that come with safety rules.

Recreationalists using personal boats like rafts, SUP boards and kayaks must wear, and have passengers wear a Coast Guard-approved flotation device (such as a life jacket). They also must attach a lanyard-type cutoff switch, if equipped by manufacturer, to person, clothing or flotation device.

Boaters cannot operate or paddle “under the influence” of intoxicants. A blood alcohol of .08 or more is considered in violation. If convicted of this misdemeanor, a boater faces a maximum penalty of $6,250 or jail time. A full list of boater regulations statewide is available at

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