Testing the waters
By Jenn Watt
Published July 23, 2019
We had a summer reporter a few years ago with a penchant for the beach. After work and on most weekends, she would pack her towel into her car and hit the road, sampling the public beaches in Haliburton County. She rarely complained about little annoyances – lack of parking, the crowd of visitors, or overused portable washrooms. Swimming was her bliss.
Then one day she came into the office covered in painful red spots; she had swimmer’s itch.
It’s caused by a parasite found in the water around aquatic snails, which penetrates the skin and then dies. This sometimes causes an itchy, red rash, which will go away on its own, but is unpleasant in the meantime.
The health unit recommends swimming away from the shoreline and avoiding areas with snails; showering in clean water as soon as you’re finished swimming or using a rough towel to dry off completely.
Swimmer’s itch isn’t the only thing to keep in mind as you look for a place to cool off.
This summer we’ve had beach closures due to environmental conditions. On July 11, the Eagle Lake beach was posted as unsafe by the health unit. After testing, it was re-opened on July 18.
Rotary Beach in Haliburton village was re-opened on July 18 as well, after a boat fire spread debris in the lake several days before, leading to its closure. It’s important to note that Rotary Beach (off Park Street in town) is not tested by the health unit. Signage indicates users swim at their own risk.
If water has a high bacteria count, it can potentially lead to ailments such as diarrhea and stomach cramps or infections of the ears, throat or eyes. Heavy rain and high winds can increase the bacteria count, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit advises. If you see lots of birds congregating on the beach or nesting nearby, they’re likely also pooping in the area, which could make the water unsafe.
“Algae, 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,” a press release from the health unit states.
Each week during the summer up until the Labour Day weekend, the health unit releases test results on its website for 18 beaches in Haliburton County. They also post their findings at each of the beaches they test, but they don’t test all beaches. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on water conditions and use your best judgement before taking the plunge.
As for our summer reporter, I have it on good authority she’s still a fixture at the beach – although she’s long since left the Highlands – but I’m guessing she’s a bit more cautious about where she jumps in.