Metro Vancouver area beaches are monitored throughout the swimming season to determine compliance with the Canadian Recreational Water Quality Guidelines, 2012. These guidelines recommend a level of ≤ 200 E.coli bacteria per 100 mL of water for primary contact recreational activities. Primary contact activities include swimming, surfing, waterskiing, in which the whole body or face and trunk are frequently immersed or wetted, and where water will likely be swallowed. The level is expressed as a geometric mean over the most recent 30 days. E.coli is an indicator organism associated with fecal contamination from human and animal sources.
When the geometric mean exceeds 200 E.coli/100 mL or in the event of a known hazard or spill, an assessment will be made to determine the possible health risks and the most effective approach to protecting the health of recreational water users. The Medical Health Officer may require local government to post a warning sign indicating that the “This Water is Contaminated and is Unsafe for Swimming”.
Monitoring of recreational water quality has ended for the season and will resume in April 2019. Results will be available starting the May long weekend.
Water quality data will be available for the Polar Bear swim at English Bay and Sunset Beaches prior to the event on January 1, 2019.
Water quality at the Metro Vancouver area beaches is tested on a weekly basis during the swimming season, namely from April to September. It is also tested in the winter for the polar bear swim.
Water samples are taken at designated swimming beaches and tested by Metro Vancouver (MV) and the City of Vancouver (CoV). Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) does not do sampling directly. Results of sampling done by MV and the CoV, are reported to VCH and posted to our website.
Beach water is tested for the presence of E. coli, a bacterium commonly found in the intestinal tract of animals and humans. It is an indicator of contamination used for monitoring recreational water quality.
A high concentration of E. coli can be associated with animal or human fecal contamination of recreational water. The Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality recommends a geometric mean (a running average over a 30-day period) of 200 E. coli per 100 ml of water for primary recreational activities e.g. swimming, surfing, in which the whole body or face and trunk are frequently immersed and where water will likely be swallowed. When the geometric mean climbs above 200, there is an increased risk of gastrointestinal illness to swimmers and bathers who use this water. Studies have identified gastrointestinal and upper respiratory diseases in bathers exposed to levels greater than 200 E.coli per 100 ml water.
When the geometric mean climbs above 200 for primary contact recreational activities or in the event of a known spill; an assessment will be made by the Medical Health Officer to determine the possible health risk and the most effective approach to protect the health of the users. Municipalities may be required to post the beach for “No Swimming”.
It is a preventative measure in order to protect the health and safety of the public when the water quality is unacceptable. The advisory could be due to biological or chemical contamination of the water e.g. a fecal contamination or an oil spill. High levels of E. coli bacteria in the water increase the risk of gastrointestinal illness to swimmers.
When the follow-up testing shows that the beach water quality has returned to an acceptable level and the health risk is low, the advisory will be removed and results updated online. Municipalities will be notified that the beach is suitable for swimming. Signage will be removed from beaches.
E. coli counts for the Metro Vancouver area beaches are updated every Friday based on sampling results provided by the Metro Vancouver Water Quality Laboratory and Provincial Laboratory. Beach water quality reports are posted on this webpage. There is a delay between the sampling time and reporting results. Swim only at designated beaches where the water is tested frequently and they participate in the advisory program. Not all beaches are tested so it is not possible to tell what the water quality is like at non-designated beaches. There is always some level of risk when swimming in natural, untreated bodies of water. In general, the recreational water in Metro Vancouver does not pose a health risk.
In many cases, communities simply don’t know the sources of their beach water pollution. Rain is often a factor contributing to beach water pollution. Heavy rain can overwhelm sewage systems, forcing overflows directly into coastal waters. As rainwater washes over land, it picks up pollutants like motor oil, pet waste, pesticides, fertilizers, animal droppings and anything that washes off land. Other miscellaneous sources include wildlife, marine traffic discharges and sewage spills.
If you believe you have been exposed to contaminated water, rinse off well using soap and clean water, paying special attention to any skin abrasions. Dry out your ears. Take a shower and wash swimsuits and towels and other clothing that might have gotten wet as soon as possible. If you start to feel sick, seek medical attention. Tell your doctor that you think you were exposed to contaminated water, and contact your local health authority to report your illness.
Water in False Creek is tested as part of Metro Vancouver Waste Management Plan to assess the outfalls in that area. The water quality is not suitable for swimming. As water quality results are available and False Creek is used by boaters and others for canoeing, rowing and kayaking etc., the data is provided to the public for information.
The level of contamination at which health risks occur with secondary recreational activities in False Creek (i.e. canoeing, kayaking, rowing etc.) is unclear. These activities result in regular wetting of limbs but greater contact including swallowing of water is unusual. The information provided is a guide to assist people who engage in these voluntary activities to assess and decide on what is the tolerable and reasonable approach to take to protect themselves. Caution should be taken to avoid ingesting the water and to wash with soap and water after coming into contact with this water, particularly prior to eating.