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Is the Bow River safe to swim in?

Bow river rafting

The Bow River provides many outdoor activities perfect for families, visitors, and locals. This busy river is a must-see when traveling to Calgary because there’s tons to see and do. 

From rafting in the backcountry to relaxing riverside, there’s never a dull moment. Whether you’re Bow river rafting or wading in to cool off, safety measurements are important. Learn more about some of the common risks of swimming in the Bow River so you can stay prepared.

Bow Water Quality Issues

The City of Calgary closely monitors Bow river water quality every year. Although many people enjoy rafting and wading in the Bow, there are parts of the river that don’t meet recreational water quality guidelines. This most often occurs around areas that flow through urban areas like downtown Calgary.

There are many factors that influence water quality in this area and others, as well. Even something as unsuspecting as heavy rainfall can have a significant impact. Storm water drainage, wildlife, agriculture, and even littering upstream can also affect water quality. 

Possible Health Risks

Because water quality doesn’t meet the recreational guidelines, possible health risks may occur. There’s a greater chance for microorganism growth that could cause mild to severe side effects depending on the individual reaction. These include vomiting or diarrhea if river water is ingested.

However, there are some simple precautions that you can take if you are planning on rafting, wading, or floating down the Bow. Before you head out be sure to keep these tips in mind:

  • Refrain from drinking or ingesting river water. Even accidental ingestion can result in health risks.
  • Avoid eye, ear, or mouth contact with river water. Don’t expose open wounds to river water, either.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after being in the water, especially before eating or drinking.
  • If injury occurs while in the water, seek medical attention immediately. 

Other things to keep in mind

There are, of course, ways to be prepared for water quality issues. Guests of the Bow River can still enjoy a day out on the water through rafting, kayaking, or floating. Following simple guidelines like the ones above can help prevent health risks and issues. 

Before adventuring on the Bow or other waterways, always scout the area beforehand for hazards. Assess water levels and inclement weather forecasts, as well. This will help you decide whether the river is safe to access so you can have a worry-free excursion.

Other items to check are:

  • Flow rates
  • Weather
  • Safety advisories, including health and water quality advisories
  • How accessible the put-in and take-out points are
  • Any known hazardous areas, including unsafe rapids

Another way to stay safe while rafting or wading in the river is to bring a safety or preparedness kit. Wearing proper clothing options, safety gear, and a life jacket can also help keep you protected. 

Overall, following safety measures can help prevent the chance of infection or disease when it comes to swimming in any river. Guests of the Bow River can have a fun, and safer experience through Bow River rafting or visiting one of the many “beaches” along the river.

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