It's fall. The mornings are colder now. The first frost is coming. As you sip your morning coffee and leaf through the day's newspaper, you are daydreaming of ski season, wondering if you need a new shovel, or thinking about pulling on a heavier sweater. You are probably not thinking about our beaches.
But Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is. We are just concluding our annual beach monitoring program, and our data suggests that our beaches need a lot of help if they are going to be open for you next summer.
When we reviewed the data, we identified two major issues:
Not one municipality we studied met Ontario's standards for clean beaches. (A 5% or better rate of closure represents the provincial target for beach protection.)
Of the forty individual beaches that we monitored, only six were open every day - just 15%.
We also identified a number of regional trends:
St. Catharines had its best summer in at least three years
Beaches in Hamilton Harbour are always posted much more frequently than beaches on the lake in the same area.
Mississauga posted its beaches for the first time in atleast two years.
Toronto was home to three of the five most frequently posted beaches. Not one beach in the city met provincial targets for beach protection.
In Durham Region, beach postings are occurring more and more frequently.
This table shows the average number of days that beaches were posted as unsafe for swimming within each area:
Beach Region % of times beaches closed Score Northumberland County 9% * 2 Prince Edward County 10% 2 Mississauga 12% 2 Durham Region 34% 2 Hamilton 37% 2 Toronto 42% 2 St. Catharines 64% 3
* Northumberland County statistics do not include Port Hope West beach, which was closed the entire summer due to construction.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper began compiling this data three years ago. Over the years, the results have raised a number of questions. So Waterkeeper is seeking answers:
We've expanded our monitoring program to track how frequently beaches are being posted on the north shore of Lake Ontario - something that has never been done before on the Canadian Great Lakes.
We've hired a biologist and taken samples to identify the reasons why Toronto's beaches are closed so frequently.
We've helped the media, including the Toronto Star (2005), the Detroit Free Press (2005), and the Globe and Mail (2004) put together some of the most comprehensive beach stories written in recent memory.
Last year, we brought evidence of non-compliance with provincial policy to the Ministry of Environment. This year, we will bring evidence to the Ministry of Health.
Waterkeeper can answer every question that the statistics raise, but for one: What will these municipalities and ministries do about contaminated beaches on Lake Ontario?
Here's hoping we know the answer to that question while you're still daydreaming about ski-season.