Sound Rivers launches 7th year of Swim Guide

Published 10:15 am Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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Swim Guide returns for a seventh year this Memorial Day weekend.

On Friday, the environmental nonprofit Sound Rivers will launch the summer-long public service that lets people know where it’s safe to swim in local waterways, from the Piedmont to the Pamlico Sound.

“We’ve got 54 popular recreational sites throughout the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico watersheds where we’ll be testing water quality on a weekly basis,” said Clay Barber, Sound Rivers’ program director.

Each of the sites will be sampled by a team of Sound Rivers volunteers, and those samples are delivered to Sound Rivers’ labs where they are tested for the presence of E. coli in fresh water and enterococci in salt water. In high enough amounts, both can cause an increased risk of gastrointestinal illness and skin infections in both humans and their pets. Sites are given a pass/fail designation based on federal and state water-quality standards.

“When sites fail, that means there’s a lot of bacteria in the water. Many times we see this after a hard rain, especially downstream of heavily developed areas where stormwater runoff is washing all sorts of stuff into the waterways,” Barber said. “Sites consistently failing even in dry weather, however, can indicate a more significant problem. Last year, we identified two pollution sources — one due to aging sewer infrastructure, the other because of failing septic systems — and worked with local governments to address the issues.”

Twenty-three of the 54 Swim Guide sampling sites are located in the Tar-Pamlico River basin: five recreational sites at Lake Royale, near Louisburg; Tar River Reservoir and Sunset Park in Rocky Mount; the River Road boat access near Tarboro; Town Common, Wildwood Park and Port Terminal in Greenville; Yankee Hall at Pactolus; the downtown waterfront, Mason’s Landing and Havens Gardens boat ramp in Washington; Chocowinity Bay at Cypress Landing; Broad Creek at Pamlico Plantation; Blounts Bay and Blounts Creek at Cotton Patch Landing; Dinah’s Landing at Goose Creek State Park; Bonner Point and Plum Point on Bath Creek; and Wright’s Creek boating access, near Belhaven.

Results are released to the public on Friday afternoons throughout the summer at, through local media and via text. To sign up for text alerts, text “SWIM” to 833-686-5322 to have results delivered weekly. For results in Spanish, text “NADAR” to 833-686-5322.

Based in Raleigh, New Bern and Washington, Sound Rivers has worked for more than 40 years to protect the health of the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico rivers and the communities that rely on them. The two watersheds cover nearly a quarter of North Carolina.

Sound Rivers’ Swim Guide program is sponsored by the Water-Quality Fund in memory of Gene Pate, Grady-White Boats, Public Radio East, Cummins, UNC Lenoir Health Care, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, UNC Pavel Molchanov Scholars, ECU SECU Public Fellows Internship Foundation, City of Greenville, Lake Royale Property Owners Association, Greenville Evening Rotary Club, Melinda Vann and David Silberstein, and Wendy and Tim Wilson. For more information, visit