Closing system

‘So far so good’ beach season in Ottawa

Ottawa-area swimmers barely had to avoid the water this summer after weeks of testing for E. coli showing low levels at patrolled city beaches.​​​​​

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

“So far so good. The majority of beaches have tested very well,” Alambo said.

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

Ottawa Riverkeeper biologist Katy Alambo says a few of Gatineau’s beaches are located near some of the combined sewers, which may pose an increased risk of contamination. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

The National Capital Commission (NCC) and the City of Ottawa follow Health Canada guidelines for determining levels of E. coli safe for swimming. Anything below 200 colony forming units of E. coli per 100 milliliters of water is considered safe.

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

Alambo said water quality can change quickly from day to day depending on factors such as bird populations, warm temperatures and heavy rains.

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

Ottawa Riverkeeper water quality assistant Olivia Macaskill says she’s been testing since mid-May and the majority of results have come back safe to swim in 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 an NCC redevelopment project.

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

By late summer 2021, the City of Ottawa had issued over 60 no-swimming days for its beaches open to the public.

Now halfway through this summer, Downey says dangerous swimming days have been rare.

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

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

“Don’t feed the birds or leave litter on the beaches.”