Beach season ‘so far, so good’ in Ottawa

Beachgoers in the Ottawa region have hardly had to avoid the water this summer after weeks of E. coli testing showing low levels in the city’s monitored beaches. ​​​​​

Katy Alambo, a biologist with Ottawa Riverkeeper, says that while it’s difficult to predict a trend from summer to summer, this season is shaping up to be much better than last. 

“So far, so good. The majority of the beaches have been testing really well,” Alambo said. 

E.coli is a bacteria found in the digestive tract of animals, and when its present in the water its an indication of fecal contamination that if ingested in large quantities, can make people sick.

Ottawa Riverkeeper biologist Katy Alambo says a few of the beaches in Gatineau are located in closer proximity to some of the combined sewer outflows, which can pose a heightened risk for contamination. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

The National Capital Commission (NCC) and the City of Ottawa follow Health Canada’s guidelines to determine what E. coli levels are safe for swimming. Anything below 200 colony forming units of E. coli per 100 millilitres of water is considered safe. 

While the city of Ottawa has its own testing system in place, Ottawa Riverkeeper provides additional testing for the NCC beaches in Gatineau like at Lac Leamy.

Alambo said the water quality can change rapidly from day to day depending on the factors like bird population, hot temperatures and heavy rainfall. 

“That’s why we really advocate, especially in more urban municipalities, for more regular testing at beaches like Lac Leamy.”

Olivia Macaskill, a water quality assistant with Ottawa Riverkeeper, says she’s been conducting testing since mid-May, and majority of the results have come back safe to swim for NCC recreational waters so far this summer. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

The city of Ottawa tests four beaches daily: Britannia Beach, Petrie Island East Bay, Petrie Island River Beaches, and Mooney’s Bay. Westboro beach is closed for the 2022 season due to a redevelopment project by the NCC.

Kathy Downey, program manager for safe food and water with the city of Ottawa, said the city has been lucky this year, and hasn’t had to post many days when beaches are not recommended for swimming. 

By the end of summer 2021, the city of Ottawa had issued over 60 days not recommended for swimming for its beaches open to the public.

Now halfway through this summer, Downey says unsafe swim days have been far and few between.

“Britannia was twice, Petrie River once, and Petrie East Bay was twice either due to E.coli or rain.” 

Mooney’s Bay has remained safe for swimming since the city began testing on June 18th. Downey said people visiting the city’s beaches can help reduce the potential for elevated E. coli levels by not encouraging the bird population. 

“Don’t feed the birds and don’t leave garbage at the beaches.”

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