News > News > Water Quality > Where is it safe to swim in the Mohawk River? 

Where is it safe to swim in the Mohawk River? 

Annual water quality report highlights water quality progress, importance of continued state investment in water infrastructure.

On the eve of the Mohawk Watershed Symposium, Riverkeeper is releasing a new report that details the results of 915 water samples gathered from the Mohawk River and its tributaries since 2015 as part of an ongoing water quality monitoring project with SUNY Cobleskill and SUNY Polytechnic.

The Mohawk River is the largest tributary to the Hudson River, and much of the Mohawk is part of the Erie Canal.

New York State and local communities in the Mohawk River Watershed have committed to $400 million in sewer system upgrades since 2016, including $187 million announced in December. Upcoming projects are planned in  Cobleskill, Dolgerville, Esperance, Fonda, Fort Plain, Ilion, Middleburgh, Rome, Schenectady, Scotia, Schuyler, Tannersville, and Utica, where Oneida County is making the largest investments anywhere in the watershed.

Dan Shapley, Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program Director, said: “The Mohawk is getting better. These results show that when we invest to fix our pipes, the result is clean water. That’s why we’re calling on New York State leaders to include $2.5 billion in new clean water spending in this year’s budget, as Governor Cuomo pledged.”

Riverkeeper, SUNY Cobleskill and SUNY Poly sample 44 locations along 120 miles of the river, from Rome to the Capital District. Tests are gathered monthly between May and October. The results show that many locations are safe for swimming most of the time, especially in dry weather. But several locations, especially after rain, are still frequently contaminated by bacteria associated with sewage. Rain can cause polluted stormwater runoff, and trigger overflows from sewage systems. Contamination is most evident between Rome and Herkimer, in the Capital District, and in several of the river’s tributaries. The best water quality has been documented in stretches between Amsterdam and Schenectady, and between Schenectady and the Capital District.

Riverkeeper began boat patrols of the Mohawk River in 2014, and started water sampling in 2015. The project started with a presentation at the Mohawk Watershed Symposium, now in its 11th year. The 2019 Mohawk Watershed Symposium takes place Friday at Union College. It will feature, among other presentations, information about the Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft 5-year Mohawk River Basin Program Action Agenda. The Mohawk Basin Program is funded by New York’s Environmental Protection Fund. [The Symposium session beginning at 3 p.m. includes presentations by Riverkeeper, DEC, and U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado.]

“Riverkeeper’s water quality monitoring project in the Mohawk River would not have been possible if not for the Symposium, which has played an essential role in convening people for over a decade, with support from the Mohawk Basin Program,” Shapley said. “We hope to see a stronger Mohawk Watershed Alliance emerge from the momentum of the Symposium, which brings together the state, universities, non-for-profit organizations, and others.”

Across the Hudson River Watershed, and including in the Mohawk River, Riverkeeper and partners monitor water quality at more than 400 locations in the Hudson River and its tributaries. In many locations, water quality was worse in 2018 than in past years, primarily due to frequent and intense rainfall. These results show that investing in water infrastructure and other elements of watershed management are essential to building community resilience to climate change. Rainfall patterns are changing, resulting in greater rainfall intensity that taxes both natural and built water systems.

Riverkeeper’s water quality monitoring program will resume in May. Updated data for the Mohawk will be posted monthly at


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