This is your guide to Toronto's Toronto’s waters. Our mission is to keep you on top of local water quality issues that can affect your health and enjoyment of Toronto’s waterways. We also want to help you make the most of the bountiful recreational water opportunities on our lakefront and in Toronto’s watersheds.
Whether you’re part of a crew, learning a new water sport or going to one of our islands’ beaches with your family, we’ll provide you with tips on how to protect your health from contaminated water. We are working hard to make sure you have information about sewage bypasses, extreme weather events, and the vulnerable spots to avoid on the waterfront. We’re also your go-to source on the great recreational water events and opportunities Toronto has to offer. So get out there and have a great time on the water!
- Though the City of Toronto’s waterfront is 46km long, from Etobicoke Creek (West) to the Rouge River (East), the city is actually criss-crossed by 300 km of creeks and rivers. If you include the islands, Toronto actually has 138 km of shoreline.
- There are only 11 monitored beaches in Toronto.
- Lake Ontario is the most threatened of the Great Lakes; pollution, habitat destruction, urban development, and overfishing have wiped out 10 species of fish in the last two centuries, resulting in consumption advisories on the fish that remain
- Ongoing stormwater and sewage pollution create human health risks and contribute to the frailty of the ecosystem
- The International Joint Commission designated Metro Toronto’s waters as an area of concern; this area overlaps with an “Area of Concern” monitored by the International Joint Commission.
- Of 11 Beneficial Uses of waterways in this region, 8 are currently “Impaired," including recreational water quality use. This has been consistent since 1987, meaning there has been no progress in addressing impairments to beneficial use.
Water Quality Issues
Sewage bypasses: During heavy rain or rapid snow melt, wastewater can bypass the treatment plant, causing raw or partially sewage to enter our waterways. Under-treated sewage flows into Lake Ontario nearly every week year round in Toronto. Stay informed.
Combined sewer overflows: Combined sewers become overwhelmed during heavy rain and rapid snow melt, discharging wastewater and stormwater into our waterways.
Urban runoff: Runoff carrying sediment, pollutants and toxic chemicals is carried from urban centres through drains, sewers, and over pavement into our waterways. Runoff is a particular problem during heavy rain or snowmelt events.
Extreme weather: Extreme weather leads to more bypass events and increased runoff, releasing urban pollutants and sewage into our waterways.
Algae blooms: Algae blooms occur in the presence of nitrogen and phosphorus, harbouring bacteria and decreasing enjoyment of water activities.
Protecting Your Health
Use these tips to avoid contact with contaminated water and protect your health:
- Avoid swimming and other recreational water activities near the mouths of creeks, rivers, and outfalls
- Avoid contact with water for at least 48 hours after a heavy rain or rapid snow melt
- Check the Swim Guide for daily updates on Toronto’s water quality
- Check out our RecWaterTO map to identify vulnerable spots in Toronto’s watershed
- Be attentive to runoff events and sewage and precipitation warnings
- You can contact your city or municipality to find out when bypasses and combined sewer overflows occur.