Community Science Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program


Community Science Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Now at 18 Sites in DC, Virginia, and Maryland — Make the Potomac Swimmable Again!

water quality monitor program volunteer

Every year, thousands of people enjoy kayaking, paddleboarding, wading, or even swimming in the Potomac River. We want everyone to be able to use and enjoy the river safely. But for many years, it has actually been illegal to swim in the Potomac River in Washington, DC because high levels of bacteria sometimes make it unsafe. When it rains, sewage combines with polluted stormwater to discharge raw sewage, pet waste, road runoff, and other contaminants directly into the Potomac River and poses public health risks.

We want to change that, with help from folks like you!

Our goal is to stop the sewer overflows so that the Potomac River is safe for swimming and other water-based recreation. To achieve our goal of a swimmable Potomac, in 2019 we began our Water Quality Monitoring Program. We started by organizing a dedicated team of volunteers who received rigorous training from Potomac Riverkeeper and other skilled and knowledgeable professionals from our watershed. From May through September, our volunteers collect water samples weekly from sites along the river, analyze them, and report the results to the public.

Our program has been such a huge success that in 2021, we expanded to 18 sites along the Potomac in DC, Maryland, and Virginia! Click on the maps below for the monitoring locations. To see which public access points generally meet public health standards, check out our Swimmable Potomac Report, which summarized results and findings on the health of the river.

And to get current information on the safety of the public access sites that we monitor, check out our weekly results on SwimGuide and Facebook every Friday. We let you and other river users know when and where direct contact with the water is likely to be safe.

As we continue to add more water quality monitoring sites, we need more volunteers to help us with collecting and testing samples. This is your opportunity to participate directly in gathering the water quality data that we need to inform the public about the public health risks of recreating in the Potomac River and to drive investment in stopping sewage and stormwater pollution.

Please join us for training and learn how you can help to make the Potomac Swimmable again!

  • If you’d like to participate, please contact our volunteer coordinator at Then take our online training. We have developed three training modules, which we would ask you to do in order:
    1. Module one
    2. Module two
    3. Module three
  • Once you have successfully completed all three modules, let us know, and we’ll send you the online test that you must pass to be certified.
  • Please fill out and sign our waiver, too.
  • Once you get word that you’ve passed the test, we will certify you as a trained volunteer scientist and we welcome you to our dedicated and knowledgeable group!

Volunteers collect and analyze water samples where people frequently recreate, to provide up-to-date information on the water quality near you! The E.coli bacteria for which we sample serves as a water quality parameter for human health in recreational waters. This monitoring initiative is one step towards our ultimate goal of making the river swimmable for all to use and enjoy!

Sample analysis is done on our research vessel, the Sea Dog, which is outfitted with an onboard laboratory to measure E.coli. The water quality monitoring data is shared with other groups working to protect the Chesapeake through the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative and the Chesapeake Data Explorer. Data will be compared with the Virginia, Maryland and DC water quality standards to determine whether the E.coli levels at each site fall below or exceed public health standards.


Watr Quality Monitoring at Mallows Bay

Water Testing at Mallows Bay

We are really proud to include the National Marine Sanctuary at Mallows Bay as one of our new water testing sites this year. Mallows Bay, the nation’s newest marine sanctuary, is home to the famous Ghost Fleet, the sunken ships from WWI; a favorite spot for kayakers and canoers, it features a unique opportunity to […]

Press Release

1st Annual Swimmable Potomac Report Issued by PRKN

POTOMAC RIVERKEEPER NETWORK ISSUES SWIMMABLE POTOMAC REPORT Identifies Where and When The Potomac is Safe For Human Contact Washington, D.C. – July 23 – Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) today released its first annual Water Quality Monitoring Report for the Potomac River, which analyzes the data and results of water sampling at 10 sites along the Potomac […]