Beach Water Monitoring

Huron County Health Unit monitors the quality of the water at public beaches based on the Beach Management Guidance Document (2014) [PDF]. We are required to sample the water at public beaches at least once a week during the swimming season. We sample the water at all 14 beaches twice a week.

A public beach is defined as any public bathing area owned and/or operated by a municipality which the general public has direct access, and where there is reason to believe that there is recreational use of the water (e.g. beach signage, sectioned off swimming area, water safety/rescue equipment) which may result in waterborne illness or injury as determined by the local medical officer of health. We may also monitor water quality at beaches owned and/or operated by a municipality that do not meet the definition of a public beach.

The current beach monitoring schedule is listed in the chart below.

Beach Sampled Mondays Sampled Wednesdays
Amberley

X

X

Ashfield

X

X

Bayfield Main

X

X

Bayfield South

X

X
Black’s Point

X

 X
Goderich – Main

X

X

Goderich – Rotary Cove

X

X

Goderich – St. Christopher

X

X

Hay Township Park

X

 X
Houston Heights

X

X

Port Albert

X

X

Port Blake

X

X

Sunset

X

 X
St. Joseph’s

X

 X

How we take samples

  • Water samples are taken at waist deep (approximately 1 metre) using reaching poles.
  • Five samples are taken per location, approximately 15 to 30 metres apart depending on the length of the shoreline.
  • A sixth sample is taken where the river runs into the lake at Ashfield Township Park Beach, Port Albert, St. Joseph’s, and Hay Township Park Beach.
  • Water samplers leave the health unit at 5:30 a.m. to conduct sampling of all beaches prior to meeting the courier at the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority by 2 p.m..
  • The courier delivers samples to the Public Health Lab in London by 3 p.m..
  • Testing of water samples for E. coli takes approximately 24 hours because 18 to 24 hours is required to incubate and culture E. coli.
  • Results for the Monday samples should be ready late Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday samples late Thursday afternoon.
  • Lab technicians count the number of E. coli colonies. Counting stops at 1,000 colonies because accuracy decreases after 1,000 colonies.

E. coli standard for Recreational Water

The Ontario standard for E. coli levels in beach water is set by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) at 100 E. coli CFU/100mL (MOH-LTC, 2008). This limit is the lowest in Canada. Health Canada recommends a limit of 200 E. coli CFU/100mL for recreational water use (Minister of Health, 2012).

Blue Flag, which is an international accreditation program for beaches, uses the provincial guidelines for water quality. This means Ontario Blue Flag beaches are held to a higher standard for water quality than the rest of Canada.

Limitations of sampling protocol

The water sampling protocol has important limitations related to timeliness of results and sources of E. coli contamination.

There is a 24 hour delay in obtaining water sample results limiting the ability of the health unit to inform swimmers of unsafe water conditions.

Based on historical data, swimmers could expect the E. coli concentration to exceed 100 CFU/100 mL if there has been rainfall in the last 24 to 48 hours and/or the water is turbid or cloudy.  Water is turbid if an adult cannot see his or her feet clearly when standing waist deep in water.

Ask yourself these questions to decide if it’s safe to swim:

  1. Can I see my feet while standing in one metre (three feet) of water (about waist deep of an adult)?
  2. Has there been heavy rainfall in Huron County in the last 24-48 hours?

Although the beach sampling indicates when E. coli concentrations are high at a beach, it does not indicate what the source of the contamination is.


If you have a questions, call us at 519.482.3416 or toll free 1.877.837.6143. Ask to speak to a public health inspector on the Environmental Health team. Or you can email us at beaches@huroncounty.ca.