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Bacteria counts can be high in the North Fork. High enough to make people sick or cause cuts to get infected. But this is not something new. It’s been a problem for many years. We believe you can have a great time on the North Fork, but we also urge you to follow the Guidelines below to stay safe. The river is constantly changing and no one can guarantee the river is safe at a given spot on a given day. You have to be cautious. 

A lot of folks have been concerned about the report, Water Pollution from Livestock in the Shenandoah Valley released on April 26, 2017 by the Environmental Integrity Project. They looked at government testing for bacteria as well as all the permits and regulations involved with livestock production. It’s a very thorough report worth reading. Click here to see it.

We share many of the concerns raised in the report. Our own work on bacterial pollution can be found below.

In the summer of 2015, Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River worked with Friends of the Shenandoah River to collect and analyze water samples where people often use the river. The research was supported by a grant from the Dominion Foundation.

This project looked at the bacteria levels in the Shenandoah River at locations on the North Fork and Main Stem. These are places where people are likely to be swimming and tubing. We found a number of locations where the samples were over the state water quality standard for recreational use. In some instances, the level of bacteria was ten times as high as the standard.

State agencies responsible for water quality and public health have known about bacteria problems on the Shenandoah River for years. Little is done to let people using the river know how high the levels are and how they might impact your health.

We ask that state government authorities make an effort to raise community awareness on this issue. Greater outreach to the community, posting signs at locations where excess bacteria have been observed would help. Real time sampling and reporting as is currently done at Virginia beaches would be ideal.

The Virginia Department of Health suggests the following guidelines:

Prevent illness and injury when swimming in natural waters by following these steps:

  • Avoid swimming in natural waters for a few days after a heavy rain event.
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming.
  • Avoid getting water shot up your nose when swimming, especially in warm shallow water.
  • Avoid swimming or wading in with open wounds or cuts.
  • Look for posted signs near the swimming area.
  • Don’t swim in areas where there are dead fish present.
  • Don’t swim if you are ill.
  • Shower with soap and clean water after swimming.
  • Avoid swimming in muddy water of lakes, ponds, and rivers.
  • Avoid swimming in unfamiliar ponds, streams, creeks, ditches, and canals.”


We are grateful to the Dominion Foundation for supporting this project. John Holmes designed the project and wrote the report. The sampling team included Karen Andersen with Friends of the Shenandoah River; students Bria Bryant – James Madison University, Amy Johnson  – Eastern Mennonite University, Megan Church – Lord Fairfax Community College; and Concha Mendoza and Nancy Carr with Friends of the North Fork.