Beach Water Quality
Why is Beach Water testing done?
Penticton has many beautiful beaches on the shores of Okanagan and Skaha Lakes. However, lake water is not pristine, and beach water quality can fluctuate due to a number of factors including lake currents, runoff and the outflow of creeks and changing environmental factors.
Water quality is typically poorer in the summer. Warm weather escalates bacterial growth and wave action or swimmers stirs up the lake bottom. The principal health risk associated with exposure to recreational water quality hazards is infection as a result of contact with pathogenic microorganisms.
Health Canada establishes guidelines for Recreational Water Quality. The primary goal is the protection of public health and safety.
What beaches are tested?
Each summer, our staff collects water samples from our beaches for Interior Health to test and analyze. Beaches are sampled weekly, with no fewer than five samples in a 30-day period. Current test results are posted at www.interiorhealth.ca under recreational water.
Water quality, for swimming purposes, is tested at the following Penticton locations.
- Okanagan Beach
- Marina Way Beach
- Skaha Beach
- Sudbury Beach
- River Channel
What is a Swimming Advisory?
A Swimming Advisory is a notice to swimmers that bacterial levels (E. coli) are currently higher than those allowed in Health Canada’s Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality. The maximum allowable number of E. coli bacteria in recreational water is 400 per 100-millilitre sample.
The risk of infection is directly related to bacterial counts in the water. When E. coli reaches 200 units per 100 millilitre sample it’s expected that one per cent of bathers may develop gastrointestinal illness (GI) if these bacteria are ingested. For every one GI illness, two to three other illnesses - skin rashes (swimmer’s itch excluded) and eye, ear and throat symptoms - can be expected. The very young, the very old and people with weakened immunity are the most susceptible.
When a Swimming Advisory is in place signage will be posted at the affected beach. Up to date information is also available on the City of Penticton website at www.penticton.ca/beaches.
Once testing shows bacteria levels have returned to acceptable levels the Swimming Advisory will be lifted and the signage removed.
- Avoid swallowing lake water
- Avoid swimming with an open cut or wound
- Avoid swimming for 24-hours after a significant rainfall
- Stay away from the water if you are experiencing digestive or intestinal problems
- Wash your hands before handling food
Understanding beach water quality
- Disease-causing microorganisms in water include bacteria, viruses and parasites (e.g. Giardia and Cryptosporidium). These disease-causing organisms can be discharged directly to water bodies or transported with surface runoff. Sources are numerous and include discharge of untreated sewage, runoff from agricultural activities and wastes from waterfowl and wild and domestic animals. Fertilizers, pesticides, and garbage can also contaminate beach water.
- Beach water quality is typically poorer in summer due to warmer water temperatures and the number of people swimming. Contamination is also more likely to increase during and after rainstorms.
- Escherichia coli (E. coli) belongs to a group of bacteria called fecal coliforms that originate in the digestive tract of warm-blooded animals. E. coli is a common human bacteria primarily used as indicator bacteria and should not be confused with E. Coli 0157:H7 which causes outbreaks of bloody diarrhea, however, there are categories of E. coli that cause diarrhea.
Protect the beach
The protection and safe management of recreational waters require the cooperation of all stakeholders.
- Don’t feed the birds
- Don’t take your pet to most beaches; dogs are only permitted at three locations: Okanagan Lake Park fenced dog beach, Three Mile boating beach, Lakeside road dog beach (east side of Skaha Lake)
- Don’t litter or discard food on the beach
- Change diapered children in the bathroom frequently, not at the beach
- Dispose of boat sewage in onshore sanitary facilities
- Wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet or after changing diapers
- Never bury waste in beach sand