photo of sandy beach with blue water in background

This Version Posted: June 18, 2021

Health Unit Makes Waves with Launch of its Beach Water Testing Program

If you’re keen to swim in local lakes and waterways, the Health Unit’s beach water testing program is surfacing just in time.

Starting this week and running through the Labour Day weekend, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit will regularly test the water at approximately 45 public beaches in Northumberland County, Haliburton County and the City of Kawartha Lakes. Water samples will be tested for E.coli to determine if local beaches are safe for public use. The Health Unit will update beach water test results by late Thursday or early Friday each week. People can find results on the Health Unit’s beach water testing webpage. Warning signs will also be put up at beaches when it’s unsafe to swim.

This year, the Health Unit is again using its three-colour system to report beach water test results:

  • Green means a beach is open/safe for swimming.
  • Yellow is a warning that high counts of bacteria may be present in the water and swimming is not advised at this time as it may lead to illness. If people choose to swim, they should avoid dunking their heads or swallowing water.
  • Red means a beach is closed due to high levels of bacteria that make it unsafe for swimming.

“We encourage you to visit us online before heading to the beach in person to see if conditions are safe for swimming,” says Bernie Mayer, Manager of Environmental Health with the HKPR District Health Unit. “In certain circumstances, beaches can provide more than just fun and recreation. A higher bacteria count in the water can increase the risk of getting eye, ear, nose or throat infections, or make people sick leading to stomach cramps and diarrhea.”

Mayer advises beachgoers to watch out for other warning signs that could affect water quality. High levels of bacteria can persist for up to 48 hours after a heavy rainfall. High winds or wave activity can drive up bacterial counts, as can the presence of a large number of birds, such as geese or seagulls nesting near the beach, whose fecal matter can impact water quality.

Like last summer, the Health Unit is advising people to be aware of not only E.coli, but also the presence of COVID-19. “We’re in a much better spot this year than last,” Mayer notes. “Mass COVID-19 vaccination efforts and the lower risk of virus spread outdoors help considerably, but we must still take precautions to reduce our risk even when visiting the beach.”

The Health Unit suggests the following COVID-19 prevention measures:

  • Stay home if you or any member of your family is sick.
  • Visit a beach closer to your home to reduce travel and the risk of spreading the virus elsewhere. Check with your local municipality about additional COVID-19 restrictions that may apply at a beach and be sure to follow them.
  • If the beach is extremely crowded, come back when it is less busy or consider doing another fun activity.
  • Bring hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to use at the beach, especially if soap and water are unavailable.
  • Stay 2 metres apart from others with whom you do not live. Use items like tents, umbrellas, blankets, pool noodles or hula hoops to keep your distance from others. These items can be good visual reminders for children too.
  • If wearing a mask on land, remove it before going into the water.