It’s June. It’s raining. I have a dilemma.
I want you to be happy, which means I want you to spend time at the lake this summer. Beach days and watersports get you away from your desk, give you an excuse to spend time with your friends, and leave you with the feeling you’re making the most of life.
I also want you to be healthy, which means I don’t want your beach day to leave you with rashes, belly aches, or some other illness.
You’re more likely to get sick if you swim or boat in sewage. Sewage ends up in the water because our sewage treatment systems aren’t robust enough to capture and treat everything we flush down the drain in big, old cities like Toronto. Add a little rain to the system, and the combined storm/ sewage pipes overflow.
Which brings me back to the fact that it’s June. (Summer’s here. Yay!) It’s raining. (So is the sewage. Ugh!)
Case in point: This Saturday, Waterkeeper’s Swimmable Water Ambassadors will be at MEC Paddlefest at Sunnyside Beach.
Paddlefest is one of the best events of the whole year to check out any sport with a paddle. It’s a great opportunity for newcomers to try kayaking, canoeing, or SUP for the first time and for old-timers to meet up with fellow paddlers.
Sunnyside is also one of Toronto’s more sewage-prone beaches. The Humber wastewater treatment plant is nearby. The Humber River carries pollution from points north of the waterfront, including older parts of the city where aging combined sewers are commonly found. Toss in the breakwall, which traps water near the shore, and you have the perfect recipe for beach pollution.
We know that the Humber wastewater plant bypassed partially-treated sewage into Lake Ontario earlier this week on June 8 and again on June 10. We only know this because our Ambassadors called the plants and asked for updates personally. Toronto doesn’t proactively publish the information or alert the public when bypasses occur.
You can check Swim Guide for the latest beach results, but they are always 24 hours late in Toronto. That means if it pours rain on Friday afternoon and you head to the beach on Saturday, there’s a good chance you’re exposing yourself to sewage pollution despite that green flag flying.
The lag between when samples are collected and when results become available is the reason Waterkeeper endorses the 48-hour rule. It basically suggests you stay away from urban waters during the first 48-hours after rain.
My question is this: how frequently should Waterkeeper be reminding you that there’s a risk of exposure to pollution after it rains?
If we promote the heck out of Sunnyside Beach in the hopes of luring you to the lake for a summer afternoon, we may also expose you to water pollution without your knowledge.
If we tell you all about the water quality problems that might greet you, we may scare you away from the lake entirely.
Neither option makes you happy or healthy. Neither option is good for Lake Ontario.
Hence my dilemma.
I’d love to know what you think. Are you afraid to swim in Lake Ontario? How often do you want to hear about sewage in your beach water? Please use the conversation thread below to share your thoughts.