Beach water results susceptible to many variables
By Darren Lum
Published July 19, 2016
Beach water testing is not as simple as black and white, says Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit inspector Frances Tsotos – there are many variables that affect results.
Tsotsos said they look for close to a dozen things including general beach conditions; air temperature; water temperature; water clarity; wind direction; and other observations regarding garbage, people in the water, animals around the water, etc.
All of these observations help with understanding site specific issues related to bacteria levels in a given week.
“It’s not one specific variable. It’s a combination of variables that usually sends it over the edge,” she said.
The samples are taken in at least three feet of water, she said. This is the usual depth required for people to swim. During the summer when the water heats up there will be higher levels of bacteria in the shallows. Storms are another major contributor.
“A lot of times after a heavy rain event it’s almost like clockwork: you do get an elevated bacteriological level,” she said. “Especially with the storm we had the other day, all that heavy rain? Everything kind of flies into the water ... it picks up anything and everything with it.”
If initial sample results indicate high levels of bacteria, the sampling team will make an effort to take another sample of the lake before the weekend.
There are three different listing types (open, posted and unavailable) outlined on the health unit website (www.hkpr.on.ca). Labs that conduct the testing recommend samples are taken when the water is settled for an accurate result.
Beaches that are open are “considered within acceptable levels as set out in the Ontario government’s Beach Management Protocol” while posted “indicate bacterial levels in the water are higher than those considered acceptable and unavailable indicate “test results are not yet available.”
Call the health unit at 1-866-888-4577 or see www.hkpr.on.ca for the latest results on the health unit’s webpage.
Testing began June 8 and will end in August. As of July 8, all beaches tested in Haliburton County were marked as open.
However, a week before Eagle Lake, Pine Lake and Haliburton Lake received posted designations. Large signs were put up, warning the public. She has been surprised with the recent unavailable listing at Eagle Lake.
“I live in Eagle Lake. I’ve been here a long time. Eagle Lake has never been posted. That to me is an anomaly,” she said.
She surmised that an usual contributor affected the results.
“You can get what they call a false positive. There could have been just one of those days when something happens to fly through the air at the time. The [sample] bottle was contaminated. There are so many variables. I don’t know what to tell you, that was just weird,” she said.
Haliburton Lake has had more Canada geese and the local cottagers’ association is working on ways to deter them. There is a constant challenge, she said, during the summer months when the beach and its water become more appealing to humans and geese.
Bacteria levels will be influenced by the greater number of people walking their dogs, combined with more waterfowl, which she says coincides with warmer weather.
Asked about patterns to recognize, she said every beach could be affected differently.
“It’s more a site specific thing. Every site has its own unique nuances,” she said.
E. coli bacteria can cause a variety of problems, whether it is animal or human in origin will determine what exactly. If someone ingests water with E. coli they can experience nausea, cramping or diarrhea. Anyone who swims with a cut or sore could get an infection.
She recommends the public look around the beach for obvious indicators for higher levels E. coli bacteria.
“It’s like anything. Just be conscientious. If you see poop there don’t step in it. Don’t walk in it you know, making sure ... even if you go to the outhouse you still wash your hands and use some sort of sanitizer after the fact,” she said.