Beaches, Lakes & Rivers

Lake & Beach Water Quality

Planning to swim, boat, fish or enjoy other water activities? While Northeast Tri County Health District does not regulate lake and river water quality, we do notify an educate the public with advisories when conditions due to toxic algae blooms or bacteria are present and may be unsafe.

In the tri county area the most common conditions found in our bodies of water are swimmers itch and toxic algae blooms. 

What is Swimmer's Itch? 

Swimmer's itch, also called cercarial dermatitis (sir-CARE-ee-uhl der-muh-TIGHT-iss), appears as a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain parasites that infect some birds and mammals. These microscopic parasites are released from infected snails into fresh and salt water (such as lakes, ponds, and oceans.) While the parasite's preferred host is the specific bird or mammal, if the parasite comes into contact with a simmer, it burrows into the skin causing and allergic reaction and rash. Swimmer's itch is found throughout the world and is more frequent during summer months. 

What are the signs of swimmer's itch? 

  • Tingling, burning, or itching of the skin
  • Small reddish pimples
  • Small blisters

Within minutes to days after swimming in contaminated water, you may experience tingling, burning, or itching of the skin. Small reddish pimples appear within twelve hours. Pimples may develop into small blisters. Scratching the areas may result in secondary bacterial infections. Itching may last up to a week or more but will gradually go away. 

Do I need to see my health care provider for treatment? 

Most cases of swimmer's itch do not require medical attention. If you have a rash, you may try the following for relief: 

  • Use corticosteroid cream
  • Apply cool compresses to the affected areas
  • Bathe in Epson salts or baking soda
  • Soak in colloidal oatmeal baths or use lotions such as Aveeno*
  • Apply baking soda paste to the rash (made by stirring water into baking soda until it reaches a paste-like consistency)
  • Use an anti-itch lotion, such as Calamine* lotion
  • Though difficult, try not to scratch. Scratching may cause the rash to become infected. If itching is severe, your health care provider may suggest a prescription strength lotion or cream to lessen your symptoms. 

What can be done to reduce the risk of swimmer's itch? 

  • Do not swim in areas where swimmer's itch is a known problem or where signs have been posted warning of unsafe water. 
  • Do not swim near or wade in marshy areas where snails are commonly found. 
  • Towel dry or shower immediately after leaving the water. 
  • Do not attract birds (e.g.., by feeding them) to areas where people are swimming. 

Source: CDC

Fish Consumption Advisories

Northeastern Washington provides some of the best fishing opportunities around. You will find more than 30 fish species in our lakes and rivers including:

  • Kokanee
  • Rainbow trout
  • Largemouth and smallmouth bass
  • Walleye
  • Perch

Washington State Department of Health identifies that fish is good for you and part of a healthy diet, but understanding the health benefits of fish along with concerns over containmation can be confusing. Resouces below provide advice about eating fish from specific waterbodies when chemicals found in certain fish species may harm your health.