Although Town CAO Holly Dowd said last week she didn’t think Queen’s Royal Beach had been closed due to bacteria levels in recent memory, it was closed 14 times in 2018.
The Niagara Region tests the water at public beaches from May to August to ensure they are safe for swimming, and posts notices online for the public when they are unsafe due to high levels of E. coli, said Anthony Habjan, manager of environmental health for the Region.
Those 14 postings in NOTL were out of a total of 106 days. In 2017, the beach was posted 24 per cent of those days — typically eight to 10 per cent would be considered a good season, he said.
Higher than average rainfall is a big factor, he explained, as is wind direction, but in 2017 the issue was the contaminated water in the storm sewer outlet at the beach, which is now being remediated.
Habjan explained Queen’s Royal is the only Niagara beach where the municipality collects its own water samples and sends them to the Region to be tested. That’s because the NOTL beach, compared to others, is not as busy and does not meet Regional guidelines to require testing.
“You might see 40 people down at the beach in NOTL, but zero people in the water,” he said, noting other beaches might have 200 to 300 people swimming. With limited resources to be spent where most needed, said Habjan, those are the beaches that are tested by the Region.
But due to the remediation work at Queen’s Royal, and the involvement of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, students have been hired and trained to collect samples at the NOTL beach daily, and the Region is offering its support by providing the equipment, doing the testing and posting the results online the following morning. The Region also notifies Brett Ruck, NOTL’s environmental supervisor, of the results, and it’s up to the Town to change the posting on the sign at the beach when the water is unsafe for swimming, said Habjan.
Monday was the first day of this season that the municipality took water samples and sent them off to the Region for testing, he said. The result posted Wednesday said the beach was open for swimming. Of 23 beaches tested in Niagara, eight were posted as unsafe for swimming. Water quality can change quickly, Habjan said, so water samples are taken six days a week and generally the results are posted within 24 hours.
Tim Bala of Paddle Niagara, one of the few regulars to go in the water at Queen’s Royal Beach, said Tuesday he “has full confidence in the Town at this point.”
He said he knew the water quality was being tested, and why, and it’s not something that concerns him. “Now it’s been brought to their attention, and they’re spending money on remediation. Awesome.”
The Town began investigating the cause of E. coli in the water two years ago, and has been working to repair aging infrastructure to eliminate cross-connections between sanitary and storm sewers, based on priority.
For more information about beach closures check www.niagararegion.ca/living/water/beaches/default.aspx.