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Improve water quality on the Columbia River

Where: Columbia River
When: Ongoing need
Contact: Lorri Epstein
Phone: 541-399-0769
On the web:
We are looking for groups and individuals

Columbia Riverkeeper has exciting project opportunities for volunteers as a part of our River Communities Program. They are all great ways to get directly involved in helping restore the Columbia River. We are always looking for volunteer help in other ways and are willing to be creative, based on your skills and interests, so even if one of these options doesn't seem right for you give us a call, 541-399-0769, or contact our Volunteer Coordinator listed below.

River Watch "Adopt-A-River"

The first caretakers of the Columbia River were the ancestors of the people who today belong to the tribes of Chinook, Nez Perce, Spokane, Celilo-Wyam, Wanapum, Wenatchee Band and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Umatilla, Yakima, and Colville to name a few. European, Asian, and African Americans populated the Columbia Basin region in the 1800's, and near the turn of the century commercial fishers caught as much as 43 million pounds of Columbia River salmon and steelhead a year. Today the catch at best is around one to two million pounds; the massive decline has been attributed to a combination of mismanaged events commonly referred to as the 5 H's: over-Harvest, Habitat loss & pollution, Hydropower dams & fish passage, Hatcheries & fish diseases, and waste from the Hanford Nuclear Site. You can help restore a clean, healthy river with abundant salmon runs by taking care of your stretch of adopted river and strengthening a network of caretakers from the Canadian headwaters all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Adopting-a-River is simply a one-year commitment to:

  • Check up on your adopted site at least once a season (4 x a year), and send us quarterly habitat assessments to document changes in wildlife, plants, and land-use at your site.
  • Pick-up trash at least twice a year - if the amount of trash is overwhelming call us to help organize a community clean-up!
  • Consider additional care-taking options at your own pace including:
1. Water quality monitoring with our high-quality equipment
2. Invasive zebra mussel monitoring
3. Native riverscape or rain gardens for stormwater remediation

To get started choose your favorite section of river as big or small as you'd like on the Columbia or a tributary; if somebody has already adopted your preferred site we'll team you up. Read this welcome letter and send us a volunteer interest form and adoption waiver , and we'll  help match you with a site and send you an adoption certificate and caretaking packet. Please contact, 541-399-0769 with any questions.

Columbia Riverkeeper is proud to be coordinating the Adopt-a-River program with SOLV’s Oregon Adopt-a-River program (, and Portland State University’s Invasive Species Watchdog program (

Water Quality Monitoring

Columbia Riverkeeper volunteers monitor water quality to measure progress towards the nation's goal of "restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters" as expressed by the US Clean Water Act.  We believe everyone has the right to a clean river that is safe to fish and swim in. There are a number of serious water pollution threats that currently challenge this goal including numerous toxics detected in sturgeon to water temperatures that exceed state standards and stress migrating salmon every summer. CRK water quality monitors adopt a river site on the Columbia or a tributary, and monitor water quality once a month to help identify the sources of pollution problems and prioritize restoration efforts.

CRK volunteers began monitoring 24 sites in 2006, and now monitor over 100 strategic sites from Wenatchee, WA through Longview/Rainier for key pollution indicators such as conductivity, pH, water clarity (turbidity), dissolved oxygen, temperature and E coli. Additionally, in 2007-8 volunteers near Wenatchee monitored 8 sites for aquatic insects (macroinvertebrates) which are also important indicators of river health. Regular, long-term monitoring creates a baseline dataset from which to identify water quality trends and catch problems quickly. In 2008, volunteers detected an E coli problem on Indian Creek, a tributary to the Hood River, and traced one source to a cracked sewage pipe which was quickly fixed. Volunteers have also consistently found temperatures on the mainstem Columbia to exceed state standards (68 F) every summer which for juvenile salmon and steelhead can stunt growth, promote disease, and encourage predators such as bass and pikeminnow. Volunteers are monitoring to identify key cool-water tributaries and inlets that may be protected or restored as thermal refuges along juvenile salmonid migration routes. Volunteers also monitor toxic pollutants such as mercury as a part of targeted studies. All volunteers receive technical training from CRK, and use Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) equipment and approved protocols. Our data may be viewed on the statewide databases of both Oregon DEQ and Washington Dept. of Ecology.

How do I get involved?

Trainings are held each spring to learn how to use monitoring equipment, methods and quality control procedures. Please review our monitoring programs below for one or two that strike your interest and submit a volunteer interest form and waiver to or call 541-399-0769.

Thanks to an exciting partnership with community colleges up and down the river, we are currently able to offer training and monitoring equipment to volunteers out of 6 water quality stations: 1) Lower Columbia College in Longview, WA, 2) Clark Co. Water Resource Center in Vancouver, 3) Columbia Crossings Marina in Portland, 4) Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, 5) CRK headquarters in Hood River, and 6) Wenatchee Valley College in Wenatchee.

If there is not a water quality station in your area, please contact our Water Quality Volunteer Coordinator about other opportunities to get involved and the potential of setting up a new water quality station.

  • Summer Shoreline Monitoring from June to September:

Volunteers wade into the river every summer to monitor the shorelines of the mainstem Columbia because they are considered important habitat for juvenile salmonids (salmon and steelhead) migrating downriver. Healthy shorelines provide the primary food source for juvenile salmonids as the base of the foodchain by providing logs, falling leaves, plants, and algae as food for insects, snails, and clams (macroinvertebrates), which in turn are eaten by juvenile salmonids and other wildlife. Improving shoreline habitat is a long-term goal of Columbia Riverkeeper in an effort to help boost current juvenile salmonid survival to the ocean up from 12%, and help the life cycle of the 6 threatened salmon runs and 5 threatened steelhead runs in the Columbia Basin.

  • Year-round Baseline Monitoring from February to November:

Volunteers brave the Northwest rain and weather to gather baseline data once a month from key tributaries and mainstem docks year-round. With climate change and extreme storm events, year-round baseline data will help us evaluate temperature trends and impacts from floods and erosion.

  • Wenatchee Macroinvertebrate Extravaganza:

In addition to supporting the food web, aquatic insects or macroinvertebrates are common indicators of water quality, as certain species are found only in cold, fast-flowing conditions and other species can better tolerate stressors like habitat disturbance, and warm or polluted water. CRK, Citizens for a Clean Colulmbia, and Wenatchee Valley Fly Fishers have initiated an annual, one-day macroinvertebrate monitoring extravaganza in late summer. Learn more from our 2007 macroinvertebrate report.

  • E coli Monitoring:

Thousands of people swim in the Columbia River and tributaries every summer (and some windsurfers go all year round!), but it is hard to say whether harmful bacteria levels are safe without regular monitoring. Columbia Riverkeeper volunteers monitor for E coli, an indicator of fecal bacteria, at least once a month at recreational beaches from June to September and year-round on tributaries of concern. Volunteers began testing for E coli in 2007 thanks to a loan of E coli processing equipment from Oregon DEQ; E coli must be processed within 24 hours of collection so monitoring is currently just focused in the Columbia Gorge. 2007-8 data indicates that E coli is generally not a problem in the Columbia Gorge, however, without regular monitoring an accidental sewage spill is difficult to detect. Learn more about E coli.

CRK volunteer sampling for E Coli in Hood River's Indian Creek.

  • Stormwater Monitoring:

Stormwater is now considered the most common path of river pollution in the U.S. Stormwater is a term for heavy rains that aren’t soaked up by the ground because of roofs, pavement, and other impervious surfaces. Stormwater often runs over pavement and picks up street litter, oil, tire dust and other pollutants and carries them straight to the river. Some cities have diverted stormwater into the sewage system but a big storm can overflow sewage tanks dumping stormwater and sewage straight into the river. Columbia Riverkeeper volunteers help riverscape places for stormwater to slowly soak into, and monitor problem areas after high rainfall events. For more information on stormwater pollution and preventions see our stormdrain factsheet (en espanol).

  • Temperature Monitoring:

The entire Columbia River has been identified as too hot for salmon in the summer. Temperature is most affected by flow and shaded tributaries, but with increased water use, deforestation, dams, and irrigation, temperatures exceed the state standard of 68F almost every July and August. This makes salmon more susceptible to disease and encourages predators such as bass and pikeminnow. The state agencies have recognized the problem; however, a Columbia Basin-wide plan to decrease temperatures has been stalled. Columbia Riverkeeper deploys continuous temperature loggers to better understand the problem and to push for a basin-wide temperature strategy. Learn more about temperature issues on the Columbia.

  • Toxic Monitoring:

Toxics data is collected only by “advanced volunteers” with an accredited scientist present and sent to a lab for analysis. Columbia Riverkeeper is uniquely suited to respond quickly to emergencies and raise red flags for further research due to our widely spread membership. Currently, CRK has sampled the river, clams and sediment for heavy metals, PAHs, and PCBs. A targeted study is also underway to sample current-use pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products headed to the Columbia from major cities and stormwater.  CRK is also participating in a Columbia River Toxic Reduction Work Group led by the EPA - read the EPA's State of the River Report for Toxics and learn more about federal efforts to clean-up dangerous toxics like Hanford nuclear waste, heavy metals in Lake Roosevelt, or carcinogenic PCBs behind Bonneville Dam, in Vancouver Lake, and Portland Harbor-

  • CRK Technical Advisory Group:

Interested people, and especially scientists, are invited to participate in our Technical Advisory Group to provide advice and support on scientific and technical issues including sample design, interpreting data and keeping up on Columbia River research. To join our online Columbia science forum contact or call 541-399-0769.

Ensuring high quality data:

Our monitoring program is part of Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) volunteer monitoring program and CRK staff are trained by DEQ. DEQ reviews and approves our sampling plans or “Quality Assurance Project Plans” as well as the quality of our data. Our data is also uploaded into both DEQ’s and Washington Dept of Ecology’s (WA Ecology) online databases to help fill in data gaps and raise red flags for further research.

Volunteers all sample between the 10th and 20th of each month, to improve data comparability and provide a snapshot of the basin. Each year on their first sampling trip volunteers take duplicate samples or conduct each test twice, to ensure the precision of their data - for the rest of the year volunteers take a duplicate sample of one parameter each sampling trip. CRK staff and seasoned volunteers also conduct annual side-by-side or "split samples" with new volunteers to confirm results. Oregon DEQ rates our data annually - we strive for "A" quality which is defensible in court.

CRK works with many highschools bringing water quality demonstrations into the classroom and on the river. Due to the difficulty of ensuring high quality data with large classes, the data is rated educational unless a teacher commits to a CRK training and can carefully oversee the process. Educational data is very useful as baseline data and as a warning system, it can alert CRK staff and DEQ to problems that otherwise might go unnoticed.

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