Swim Guide

Our Swim Guide program allows us to monitor popular swimming and recreation access points throughout the watershed to E.coli bacteria. Though North Carolina does not have an E.coli standard for water quality and instead uses fecal bacteria standards, the EPA has set a beach action value of no more than 200 MPN for E.coli in recreational waters in order to protect human health.


Goodbye 2020!

We have completed our second year of our Swim Guide program. This year’s monitoring and analysis was done by our UNC-CH intern, Arial Lam.  Check her out below as she introduces herself and the program!

If you have suggestions for new locations that you’d like to see us monitor for the swim season in 2021, please let us know!


Check out our Swim Guide program and find a map of our beaches here!

Don’t Forget to Download the Official Swim Guide App!

Take Swim Guide with you – wherever you go! The Swim Guide app is free. Experience the freedom of beach-hunting from your Apple or Android smartphone.

Interested in supporting our 2021 Swim Guide program?

Donate to help:

  • Support mileage and stipend for qualified interns
  • Help offset costs of disposable sample equipment (sterile bottles, ice, gloves)
  • Printing costs for flyers at beaches

Haw River Assembly staff and interns monitor water quality at sites in this region for E.Coli bacteria. Here’s why that matters
Sampling season starts May 10th and ends September 10th.


The Importance of Swim Guide

Every person should be able to swim at any beach on any day of the summer and never worry about health risks. Without current, reliable data about water quality, people are vulnerable to illness and infection. When water isn’t safe to touch, people withdraw from it. And when the connection between us and our water fades, so does our instinct to protect it.

  • Swim Guide has helped to prevent thousands of waterborne illnesses simply by making it easy for people to know when their water is contaminated and when it is clean for swimming.
  • Swim Guide is helping to identify sources of water pollution so that together we can act to restore and maintain swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters.

Water at all sites is sampled for E. coli at all sites. Basic water chemistry (pH, DO, temp, conductivity) is also monitored at all sites. Haw River Assembly utilizes the standardized federal criteria of 235 E.coli/100 ml for collecting and analyzing water samples. Test results are expressed as Most Probable Number (MPN) of E.coli cfu (colony forming units) per 100 ml. Water samples are collected weekly. Results are posted one day after collection.

Results will be communicated through the swim guide app and results tables will be put on Haw River Assembly’s website and social media site. They are also available by email or by calling Haw River Assembly at 919-542-5790 or emily@hawriver.org.

Finding the Best Beaches

Swim Guide offers water quality information for a wide variety of beaches, ranging from city parks to remote lakes ideal for camping.

To find the beach that’s just right for you, browse the map or search for a beach by name. Beach descriptions tell you about amenities, lifeguards, where to park, and everything else you need to know to enjoy a day at the beach.

Have a favorite beach? Bookmark it! The next time you use the app, it will show up at the top of the beach list, making it easier for you to access information.

Don’t know how to get to the beach of your choice? The app also provides walking, driving, and transit directions.

Make sure to share your love of beaches with friends and family using our built-in social media sharing tools.

Beach water quality information that is easy to understand

Every beach is marked with an icon so you know when the water at your favorite beach meets government water quality standards. A beach is marked Green when single sample results are under 235 E.coli / 100 ML water. A beach is marked Red when the results are equal to or above 235 E.coli / 100 ML water. A beach is marked Grey when there are no current results or there is no available information.

Reliable beach water quality sources

Water quality information is gathered from government agencies or reported by Swim Guide affiliates themselves.

In any beach, look at the “Source” section. This will tell you who samples the water at each beach, how often, and what water quality standards apply. The date and time stamps tell you when the sample results were last verified by the Swim Guide affiliate.

Pollution Reporting

Bacteria isn’t the only pollution that can ruin your trip to the beach. If you are concerned about water quality, litter, minor spills, or other problems, let us know using the pollution reporting tool in Swim Guide. This will alert your local affiliate to environmental problems. (In an emergency, always notify the appropriate authority).

The History of Swim Guide

Swim Guide was created by the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper staff in Toronto to answer this simple question: is it safe to swim in Lake Ontario?

We thought it would be easy to find the answer. We were wrong.

As it turns out, reliable facts and figures about beach water quality are hard to come by. So we started compiling our own.

Over the years, more affiliates have started using Swim Guide to share information about swimmable waters with the public. As of 2019, Swim Guide is the most popular beach information service in the world.


A Note on Industrial Contaminants

In the Haw, bacterial contamination is not the only threat to safe, swimmable water. Industrial toxins make their way into waterways through many pathways. Perfluorinated compounds, bromide, and 1,4 Dioxane are just a few that we are beginning to monitor in the Haw River watershed. The health impacts for these compounds are well documented in drinking water, but the research is limited for recreational contact. As the collection of research grows, scientists and academics suspect that skin is not a pathway of significant concern. Preliminary studies suggest 1,4 dioxane evaporates from the skin very quickly and leaves very little to be possibly absorbed by the skin.  For a look at the early research publications, check out this link.

Our First Summer Swim Guide Was A Success!

Our 2019 Swim Guide program was such a huge success, thanks to the support of the Clif Bar Family Foundation grant. We were able to provide two highly qualified interns with fair stipends, mileage reimbursements, and support weekly E.Coli sampling efforts at public beach accesses for fifteen weeks in the summer. With weekly posts on our social

media channels, we reached over 21,000 people and had over 500 views on our instagram videos. We also partnered with the local state park staff to display flyers about our monitoring program in both Spanish and English at every state park Swim Guide site.

Thanks to Haw River Canoe and Kayak, Frog Hollow Outdoors, and Townsend Bertram Company for their support. And thanks to the many individuals who donated to support our program!