On Wednesday, June 28, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit announced that three Thunder Bay beaches would have permanent swimming advisory notices. Boulevard Lake main beach and two Chippewa Park beaches will have the advisories installed this summer due to their histories of higher E.coli levels.
Previously, temporary signs would advise people not to swim if current water quality tests showed elevated levels of E.coli. If the levels receded, the signs would be removed. This process would be reviewed and repeated after weekly testing. However, health unit representatives worried that removing the signs gave beach-goers and swimmers a false sense of security. Water quality can change rapidly.
Speaking to The Chronicle Journal, Lee Sieswerda, the health unit’s manager of environmental health stated that:
“Water quality can change due to wind, waves, weather, and waterfowl over the course of a few hours. However, it takes one to two days to take the water samples, test them for E. coli, and then post the advisory signs, so that ‘snapshot’ is no longer an accurate indicator of current conditions. Therefore, we will no longer be advising people whether or not to swim based on short-term E. coli tests. Instead, we will provide people with a long-term summary of E. coli test results over the past five years. People can use that information to decide if they want to swim at that beach.”
When speaking with TB Newswatch, Sieswerda indicated that water fowl is the most likely suspect when it comes to elevated E.coli.
“When there’s high levels of E. coli it’s because of feces. It’s mostly birds,” Sieswerda said, adding it is different than swimmer’s itch.
“Anyone who has been to a beach around Thunder Bay knows when it is goose season. Things like a lot of waterfowl, if the beach isn’t cleaned up regularly or wind, water and waves that stir up the sediments on the bottom can also drive E. coli up into the water.”
The City of Thunder Bay routinely rakes beaches to remove the waterfowl fecal matter.
Using weekly test results from the past five summers, the health unit creates a percentage to show how often a certain beach experienced high levels of E. Coli. Boulevard Lake main beach currently shows that 30% of the time E.coli levels were high; Chippewa Park main beach showed 40% of the time; and Chippewa Park’s Sandy Beach showed 10% of the time.
The health unit will continue to take the weekly water samples for testing, at these three beaches and others listed on their website. However, they will not be posting them. Instead, they will collect the results, analyze them at the season’s end, and update the percentages for the 2018 season, as necessary.
Currently, beaches outside of Thunder Bay will continue with the temporary advisory sign strategy rather than switching to permanent advisories. Their signs will continue to be posted and taken down, as necessary, because these beaches rarely experience high levels of E.coli.
Ultimately, beach-goers can decide for themselves whether or not they want to swim. The advisories are meant to provide them with information they need to make an informed decision. Swimming in water that has elevated levels of E.coli can cause skin, eye, nose, and throat infections, as well as stomach illness.
Some things swimmers can do to reduce their risk of becoming ill are:
- avoid swallowing beach water
- towel off after a swim
- shower once they’ve gone home
TBDHU’s Beaches page, includes information on beach advisories, public pools & spas, E.coli, inspections & enforcement, injury prevention, sun safety & tanning.