Local residents are encouraged to watch for a variety of signs that beaches are safe for swimming, not just the obvious ‘warning’ ones posted by the Health Unit.
This week, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit is launching its 2018 beach water testing program. Between now and Labour Day, Health Unit staff will take weekly water samples at nearly 45 public beaches in Northumberland County, Haliburton County and the City of Kawartha Lakes. Water samples from these beaches will be sent to the public health lab in
Peterborough to test for bacteria such as E.coli. Based on test results, the Health Unit will determine if the water quality at a beach is safe for public use.
Beach water test results will be available by late Thursday or early Friday each week throughout the summer months. Results will be available online at www.hkpr.on.ca or by calling the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 5006. People can also follow the Health Unit on Twitter (www.twitter.com/HKPRDHU) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/HKPRDHU) for the latest results.
Public Health Inspector Neha Gandhi advises residents and visitors alike to assess the safety of beaches before going into the water. The first indicator is the large yellow ‘Warning’ signs posted by the Health Unit when beaches are unsafe for use due to high counts of E.coli bacteria in the water.
“If you see these ‘warning’ signs, it’s important to heed their advice and stay out of the water for your own safety,” Gandhi says. “While beaches are great for fun and recreation, they can also pose a health risk for swimmers in certain situations.”
The Health Unit will remove its ‘Warning’ signs from a beach once testing shows E.coli bacterial levels in the water are within safe guidelines. However, people going to a beach can also look out for other warning signs that could affect the water quality.
“Heavy rain, high winds or wave activity can drive up bacterial counts in the water, making it unsafe for public use,” Gandhi adds. “Another warning sign can be the presence of a large number of birds, such as geese or seagulls nesting near the beach. Fecal matter from these birds can drive up bacterial counts in the water.”
Floating debris, oil, discoloured water, bad odours and excessive weed growth are other potential signs that the beach may be unsafe for swimming. Prolonged hot weather can promote the growth of bacteria in the water, as can the actual water temperature. For example, shallow beaches tend to have warmer water and a higher potential for bacterial growth. Says Gandhi: “If you have any doubts about water safety, it’s best to avoid the beach and try again when conditions improve.”