Last summer, five local beaches were closed for several weeks due to high levels of E. coli bacteria in the water. There are a number of factors that can contribute to high bacteria levels including weather, tides, animal waste and sewage discharges from various sources, including boats. We can’t control nature but we certainly can try to improve the human factor.
That is why Vancouver Coastal Health’s Medical Health Officers are concerned about proposed changes to Transport Canada’s sewage discharge regulations, which could mean more beach closures in the future.
Transport Canada currently allows small boats to discharge their untreated sewage three nautical miles away from our beaches but they are considering changes that would allow boats to discharge just one nautical mile away. One nautical mile is equal to approximately 1,852 metres. That’s about the distance from Kits Beach to Sunset Beach.
As a Medical Health Officer, I am concerned that these proposed new sewage discharge limits could negatively affect recreational water quality – meaning our beaches may be forced to close more often.
We urge Transport Canada to keep our beaches healthy and reconsider this proposed change.
Current sewage discharge regulations for small boats are difficult to enforce, which may contribute to the poor water quality we have been experiencing. If the proposed changes Transport Canada is considering do go ahead, there should be a plan for protecting our beaches, such as designating them as protected areas where no sewage can be discharged.
We all need to be reassured that potential health hazards will be adequately controlled and that our beaches remain healthy and safe places for everybody to enjoy.
Dr Mark Lysyshyn, Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Coastal Health