Every Canadian has a right to safely swim in his or her local waterway. The right to access clean water goes back thousands of years and is linked to the rights of the citizen to find food and to travel on the water â€“ rights that are essential if freedom and equality are to flourish.
Beaches are critical natural infrastructure for Southern Ontario communities. Shallow waters and sandy beaches provide unique habitat for birds and aquatic life. Cool waters are a respite for millions of people on hot summer days and encourage healthy, active lifestyles. Public spaces create meeting places for families and foster rich social and cultural communities.
Ontario's environmental laws reflect the importance of clean, accessible beaches. The Ontario Water Resources Act prohibits anyone from discharging any material that may impair the quality of the water. The Environmental Protection Act prohibits any person from discharging any contaminant that may impair the quality of the natural environment for any use that can be made of it.
After four years of beach hotline monitoring, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper can draw the following conclusions:
1. No municipality is complying with policies under the Ontario Water Resources Act:
a. Only 5 beaches in 3 areas were open at least 95% of the swimming season
b. No municipality monitored and reported beach postings from June 1 to September 30. Most municipalities begin sampling after the first week of June and stop sampling on Labour Day weekend.
2. No municipality is in compliance with the Beach Management Protocol
a. Beach surveys are not being used to identify sources of pollution
b. Mississauga frequently fails to report as posted beaches with e. Coli above 100 cfu / 100 mL.
3. The public does not really know whether a beach is safe for swimming. The sample collection and analysis process that is used in all municipalities means that water quality results are between 24 hours and 7-days out of date. Actual bacteria levels may fluctuate daily, even hourly. Samples themselves are collected from water much deeper (1 â€“ 1.5 metres) than shoreline areas where children usually play and where bacteria levels may be higher.
Waterkeeper discovered that studying beach postings alone may actually encourage some municipalities to permanently close beaches and avoid dealing with contamination problems. By closing a beach, removing the lifeguards, and discontinuing sampling, a municipality can hide a problem area while improving its overall statistics. Municipalities that continue to monitor and report on problem beaches inevitably rank lower in the standings, even though they may be making greater strides towards cleanup and are most certainly being more transparent and accountable to the public. We are now developing a more comprehensive way to tell Ontarians whether or not it is safe to go swimming at their local beach.
A note of caution regarding the data in this, and previous, beach reports. Temperature, rainfall, and sampling locations all have dramatic impacts on beach postings â€“ these variables all fluctuated significantly in recent years and Waterkeeper does not believe that the results for just four years are enough to draw conclusions about whether Lake Ontario is getting cleaner, dirtier, or staying the same. Similarly, there are too many differences between each municipality's monitoring program to accurately compare each region. Some monitor daily, some weekly, and some fail to post beaches when e. Coli results exceed provincial water quality standards (as mentioned above). The results are presented as a general guideline only.