How much you know about water quality at your local beach depends on where you live in Canada, reveals the Canada Beach Report, a new report on the state of recreational water quality monitoring across the country.
Government routinely tests beaches and compares results to recreational water quality guidelines in order to protect public health from exposure to contaminated water. But water testing and public communications practices vary widely between provinces and territories.
The Canada Beach Report provides a comparison of different water quality monitoring programs and practices across Canada, province by province, territory by territory. It found significant gaps in both water testing and public reporting in Canada.
The findings will equip Canadians with a better understanding of the landscape of beach water quality rules, monitoring practices, and reporting across Canada. It will also help government and community monitoring organizations improve water sampling and public information programs.
The report was published by Swim Guide, the most comprehensive beach water quality service in Canada. Swim Guide is a program of Swim Drink Fish Canada, a Canadian charity that connects people with water. Swim Guide’s goal is to ensure that 100% of Canadian households have access to basic data about the swimmability of their watersheds.
“The good news is that Canadians love water. Swimming and boating are quintessential summer activities and are now more popular than ever before. The Canada Beach Report shows that more frequent water testing in more places with faster communication of water quality results would help protect public health and inspire people to restore and protect our coasts,” says Mark Mattson, President of Swim Drink Fish Canada and Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
“Ontario stands out as a leader in recreational water quality monitoring and information reporting. Municipal governments generally do a better job testing waters and sharing information here than in any other province. Ontario also uses one of the best standards for protecting public health and the environment,” says Mattson.
“The Canada Beach Report shows that we need to have a better understanding of health risks in our recreational waters, and work collaboratively to build a baseline of reliable data,” said Lauren Hornor, Executive Director of Fraser Riverkeeper. “We need more monitoring of water quality, particularly where combined sewer outfalls and other land-based sources of pollution are discharged or illegally dumped into waterways.”
Fraser Riverkeeper is launching a pilot project for citizen science water quality testing in Burrard Inlet. We are concurrently launching a campaign pushing for real-time reporting on untreated waste water discharges and bypasses. People need to know that they’re safe on the water, and signing the petition is a key action they can take to help build a swimmable, drinkable and fishable future in BC.
“The Canada Beach Report highlights an invaluable policy tool that directly affects the health of millions of Canadians every summer. Here in Alberta, our lakes provide endless recreation opportunities and the monitoring programs examined in this report represent a front-line defense that ensures we can enjoy them safely. Alberta’s blue-green algae monitoring program is among the best in the world and with additional funding and the right priorities, we can work toward better protection for our lakes and rivers while ensuring that all Albertans know whether it’s safe to swim,” says Hans Asfeldt of the North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper in Edmonton.
“Swimming in lakes and rivers in the Ottawa River Watershed is an essential part of summer and enjoyed by millions of Canadians and tourists from around the world. The Canada Beach Report offers a great opportunity to learn from each other, to celebrate our hard work improving water quality monitoring, and to continue pushing for public notification of sewage bypasses that pollute the waters where we swim, fish, paddle and play,” says Meredith Brown, Riverkeeper for the Ottawa River. “
“Water quality problems at New Brunswick’s iconic Parlee Beach have put a much-needed spotlight on the health of our shorelines and beaches. New Brunswickers have a deep connection to their water and want to see it protected for its full recreational, commercial and cultural use. The Canada Beach Report not only highlights the need for more consistent and robust water quality monitoring and reporting in Canada, particularly in New Brunswick, but it also presents an opportunity for our provincial government to act on its long-awaited water classification system to ensure all of New Brunswick’s waterways are protected, from the rivers to the shorelines to the sea,” says Lois Corbett, Executive Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. “
- The Canada Beach Report is the first report of its kind.
- Monitoring recreational water quality at marine, lake, and river beaches is not uniform across Canada. Factors influencing recreational water quality monitoring practices include geography, climate, funding, as well as local priorities.
- The report identifies the standards or guidelines used in the province, water quality indicators, and method of calculation used to determine whether beach water quality is suitable for recreational use.
- The report profiles when and how swimming advisories are issued and communicated to the public. Public access to basic data about the swimmability of their beaches, including beach monitoring test results, and alerts for sewage contamination, varies widely across provinces and territories.
- The report presents the number of beaches monitored in each province and territory and the provincial or local recreational water monitoring bodies, their programs, and the monitoring frequencies within each jurisdiction.
- All provinces monitor recreational water. However, only 6 of the 10 provinces have established recreational water quality monitoring guidelines: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.
- Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are currently developing protocols for recreational water quality monitoring.
- Recreational water quality guidelines are not established in the Territories.
- Existing monitoring programs only cover a fraction of the marine beaches, lakes, and rivers where Canadians and visitors swim. Most Canadians swim at unmonitored or under-monitored locations.
- Recreational waters are monitored on certain First Nations reserves in Canada.
- Every province with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador monitor cyanobacteria (Blue-Green Algae) and cyanotoxins. Monitoring of cyanobacteria is increasing in frequency, and monitoring practices are become more standardized.
- Monitoring recreational water quality at marine, lake, and river beaches is not uniform across the country. Nor are monitoring practices, including reporting of test results to the public, uniform across municipalities within provinces and territories.
- Factors influencing recreational water quality monitoring practices include geography, climate, funding, as well as local priorities.
- Most provinces and territories do not issues rain advisories to recreational water users to help them avoid contact with contaminated water.
- With few exceptions, provinces and territories do not notify the public in the event of a sewage bypass that could increase contamination a recreational water location.
- With few exceptions, provinces and territories do not notify the public when combined sewers overflow, contaminating recreational waters and increasing the risk of illness.
- Many people from across the country contributed to the research for the Canada Beach Report. The report was prepared by Swim Guide program manager, Gabrielle Parent-Doliner, with contributions from Krystyn Tully, Vice President of Swim Drink Fish Canada, and Li Black.
- The Canada Beach Report was funded by the generous support of the J.P. Bickell Foundation.