Local swimmers can monitor water quality to stay safe this summer

Big Sandy Bay on Wolfe Island. Photo by John Geddes.

The long hot days of summer are here, and area beaches are busy with visitors hoping to beat the heat. Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health helps those beachgoers stay safe by monitoring the water quality at 29 beaches in the region to make sure the water is safe for swimmers.

According to Public Health, local beaches are tested on either a weekly or monthly basis during the swimming season. When a beach location is deemed unsafe for swimming, signs are posted at the beach, on KFL&A Public Health’s website and social media. Public Health stated that the most common reason a beach is unsafe is due to high levels of bacteria in the water.

“KFL&A Public Health is committed to safeguarding your well-being at our region’s municipally owned or operated public bathing beaches. We monitor water quality according to Ontario Public Health guidelines, conduct weekly inspections (monthly for some beaches) and test for E. coli, a type of bacteria, from June to August,” the health agency stated. “Signs are posted when potential health risks arise, often due to high levels of E. coli.”

While two area beaches — Sydenham Lake Beach (The Point) in South Frontenac Township and Centennial Park Beach in Stone Mills Township — were listed as being unsafe for swimming on the morning of Tuesday, Jul. 11, 2023, those beaches were updated to be listed as safe for swimming later in the day, after repeat testing was done and results for the presence of unsafe bacteria came back negative, according to KFL&A Public Health.

Before people or pets take a dip, Public Health reminds everyone to:

  • Check kflaph.ca/BeachListings for updates on beach closures.
  • Check rainfall: If heavy rain has occurred in the past 24 to 48 hours, swimming is not recommended due to higher bacteria levels.
  • Assess water clarity: If the water is cloudy and you can’t see your feet at waist depth, it may indicate higher bacteria levels. Avoid swimming in such conditions.
  • Watch for red flags: Keep an eye out for waterfowl, dead fish, algae or scum, hazardous debris, or health warnings. These indicate an increased health risk.

“There are a variety of factors that can lead to high levels of E. coli. Some of those can be heavy rainfall, high winds, high temperatures, lots of waterfowl or swimmers in the water,” Public Health shared. “We do advise you to not swim or play in the water, especially children who are most likely to consume water if they do bathe in it. So, if you do see that posted at the beach or on our social media online we do advise you to stay clear until we repost again saying that it is safe to swim.”

Cyanobacteria — or blue green algae — in shoreline water. Photo via Wikicommons.

Another factor to consider when searching for a place to swim is the presence of algae blooms. Harmful algae bloom (HAB) is another term to describe blue-green algae, which can be harmful to people and pets. Public Health noted that HABs can be found in some Ontario waterways, especially where water is shallow, slow-moving, warm, or has been contaminated with fertilizer, sewage, or phosphate soap. 

Normally, algae are barely visible. During warm weather, this can change as algae rapidly increase in size to form large masses called blooms. According to Public Health, HABs are usually detected in the hot summer months and early fall, often forming repeatedly in the same lake or waterway.

While many forms of blue-green algae are harmless, some produce toxins that can negatively affect health. If you see HABs in a waterway — they make the water look like bluish-green pea soup, or a shiny paint slick — do not swim, drink or use the water. Keep animals away from the water too.

Read more about algae blooms on the KFL&A Public Health website: https://www.kflaph.ca/en/health-topics/algae-blooms.aspx

The City of Kingston also provides a sewer overflow map and recommends waterfront users visit it after heavy rainfalls. According to Utilities Kingston, bacteria levels in lakes and rivers are higher up to 48 hours after heavy rainfall, and swimming is not recommended during that time.

Visit the online map at www.UtilitiesKingston.com/Overflows, to see where sewer overflows have occurred in real time.

For the list of beaches monitored by KFL&A Public Health and their current conditions, visit their Beach water listings webpage.

One thought on “Local swimmers can monitor water quality to stay safe this summer

  • Graphs indicating the exact level of E. coli would be beneficial
    Red – high, orange – med, Yellow – low.
    In this weather, the beach provides the only relief for some residents.

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