Contact Recreation Guide
What is Contact Recreation?
Contact recreation is any activity that involves coming in contact with water. Examples include: Fishing Boating Skiing Paddling Swimming Water Skiing Though the Ohio River has no official designated swimming areas, multitudes of people flock to the river for recreational use during warm weather. During this time, the River can often be safely enjoyed. However, there are certain conditions when contact recreation should be avoided.
When It Rains, It Drains
When it rains, storm water runs off the land and carries pollutants directly into waterways, or into storm sewers that empty into waterways. This type of pollution, called nonpoint pollution, is the leading cause of water quality impairment in the nation. Examples of nonpoint pollution include sediment, trash, fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste. In urbanized areas along the Ohio River, heavy rainfall can also cause combined sewers, which carry both storm water and municipal waste, to overflow and discharge untreated sewage into the water.
Nonpoint pollution is most prevalent in the River during and after rainfall. Of particular concern after wet-weather events are elevated levels of E. coli bacteria in the water. These bacteria, found in human and animal waste, may indicate the presence of other pathogens that cause illness or infection. Therefore, it is recommended to refrain from any recreational activities in the water for at least 72 hours after it rains. Rainfall also increases the risk of treacherous currents and submerged debris that can cause accidents and injuries. Recreating upstream of urban areas may lessen some risks associated with storm water and river traffic.
Enjoying Your River
The ideal time to enjoy the river is when:
- the water levels are low,
- the flow is slow,
- the clarity is high and
- the weather has been dry.
These conditions reduce the risks associated with wet- weather. Rain and storm water runoff can cause high water levels, unsafe currents, and can carry contaminants, including pathogens, that may affect human health. It is important to remember that these risks can occur at any time in natural bodies of water. Also remember that the River is used by barges and vessels that can pose a safety risk to swimmers and small boats.
Health Habits for a Healthy River
- Conserve Water. Turn off the faucet while brushing teeth; do not flush gum and other trash; and fix leaky sinks and toilets.
- Dispose of oil, lawn chemicals, and cleaners by following directions on the package. Never put them down storm drains, sinks, or toilets.
- Dispose of medications in the trash instead of flushing. Some medical ingredients cannot be removed with regular water treatment.
- Don’t be a litter bug on land or in the water! Pack out all trash when recreating on the River.
- Pick up after your pets.
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
- Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly and according to directions; plant vegetation to prevent soil erosion.
This document is intended to provide general guidance regarding contact recreation on the Ohio River. When engaging in such activities, it is always important to:
- Understand the risks
- Never recreate alone
- Know how to swim
- Always wear a life jacket
- Know how to boat or paddle
- Follow Navigation Rules
- Never mix contact recreation and alcohol
Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission
Cincinnati Health Department
Ohio River Partners
Please support the following organizations who made this guide possible, and who are working to get communities involved in enjoying and protecting the Ohio River!
Center for Ohio River Research and Education at Thomas More College
ORSANCO Educational Foundation