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Safety First - Swimming & Fishing

We’re working toward a cleaner river – with your help.

Most of Elizabeth does not meet the state standards, but a final state report approved on May 19, 2016, says the Lafayette branch has achieved the state standard for bacteria. The Elizabeth River Project and many community partners continue to work to reduce bacteria and improve river health. Join us!


  • Please put SAFETY FIRST. The Norfolk Dept. of Public Health is the only agency that monitors with the regularity needed to determine whether waters are safe for swimming. That department tests public beaches only (there are none on the Lafayette)
  • Elizabeth River Project and partners have collected additional water sampling in the Lafayette showing two concerns to keep in mind:
    • Heavy rains overload the Lafayette with excess bacteria, as in most urban rivers. Avoid recreational contact for 72 hours after it rains.
    • Narrow, shallow areas may harbor unhealthy levels of bacteria even in dry weather.  We recommend avoiding recreational contact in all small creeks.
  • Precautions are advised for swimming in any natural waters. 

PRECAUTIONS, Lafayette River

  • As with any urban river, avoid recreational contact for 72 hours after a rain. Elevated bacteria levels are highly likely after storms.

  • Avoid recreational contact in any narrow, shallow creeks. These areas do not flush well and may have excess bacteria even in dry weather. The state report shows extra concerns in Knitting Mill Creek, an area under study by partner, Lafayette Wetlands Partnership

  • All natural waterways present health risks that should be taken into account before making recreational contact.

    • Do not make contact with any natural waterway if you have an open cut or burn. Seek IMMEDIATE medical attention if a wound develops with unusual redness, swelling or drainage, and inform the doctor of any recent contact with a natural waterway. Potentially serious and fast-acting infections from “Vibrio vulnificus,” a naturally occurring bacteria, are increasing up and down the East Coast as seas grow warmer. See links below for more information.

    • Do not make contact with any natural waterway if you have liver disease, alcoholism, cancer, diabetes or other conditions that could compromise your immune system. Such conditions may make you susceptible to vibrio infections.

    • Wear swimming shoes for protection against cuts and scrapes.

    • Shower after contact and wash your hands before eating.

    • Avoid swallowing river water or getting the water up your nose.

"SWIMMABLE" vs. River Health

In 2008, the Elizabeth River Project and community partners set a goal for all practical areas of the Elizabeth and its Lafayette branch to meet Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s water quality criteria for recreational contact. We have loosely referred to this goal as “swimmable.” In fact, swimming conditions are best measured by Norfolk Dept. of Health. Our goal is better understood as representing our aims for the ecological health of the river.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality measures bacteria in the Elizabeth River once a month, including at two stations on the Lafayette. The state reviews six years of data to recommend whether to remove a river from a list of waterways impaired for recreational contact. During these six years, no more than 10% of the total samples can exceed 104 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 ml. of enterocci bacteria. More on the state criteria.

Because Elizabeth River Project puts safety first, we’re working with the state and other partners to gather more data about bacteria in the Lafayette River. We’ll keep you posted on the latest news. For more information, contact Joe Rieger, 757-392-7133,


Join us in the rewarding journey to restore the health of your home river.

  1. Become a River Star Home – Receive our beautiful FREE yard flag when you commit to 7 simple things that make a big difference to reduce bacteria, nutrients and other pollutants..

  2. Find your starring role at work or at school.

  3. Become a member to help us keep the momentum strong.

  4. Join our mailing list. We’ll keep you up to date on progress toward our exciting goals.