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Public Beaches

Public beaches

Throughout the summer, water samples are collected from designated public beaches in Simcoe and Muskoka. Beaches are posted with warning signs when  bacteria levels increase in the water and there is a risk of infection.  

Weather and other environmental factors affect the water quality at our beaches. We don’t recommend swimming at beaches if it has rained heavily in the last two days. Heavy rains can wash bacteria, chemicals and even garbage into the water which may be a risk to your health. Visit our beach water testing webpage for a list of beaches and the swimming conditions. 

Under certain conditions, beach water can also result in a temporary skin infection known as swimmer’s itch. To learn more about swimmer’s itch and how to prevent it, please see the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention webpage.  

A public beach is a designated swimming area for the general public that is owned and/or operated by a municipality. We work with municipalities to determine what beaches will be sampled each year. Each year, public health inspectors conduct an on-site assessment of each beach for safety and suitability purposes.  

Beaches are monitored for bacteria levels so we can inform the public of conditions that may increase the risk for illness. Swimming in water with high  bacteria levels can  increase the risk of minor skin, eye, ear, nose and throat infections or stomach illnesses if the water is swallowed.

The Ontario Provincial Laboratory analyzes each water sample for E.coli bacteria. E. coli bacteria is used because its presence in water indicates fecal material in the water. To get an accurate assessment of water quality, several samples across the beach  are collected.  

Our beach sampling program also includes monitoring beaches for blue-green algae. We do not recommend swimming when there is  an algae bloom.    

Public beaches are not routinely monitored for chemicals but if there is reason to believe chemical contamination may exist at a beach, we work with the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks to investigate the possible contamination.

In Ontario, public beaches are posted when bacteria levels exceed the recreational water quality guideline of 200 E. coli per 100 mL of water. The owner of the beach (usually the municipality) will post warning signs in visible locations to inform swimmers of the potential risk. The signs will normally remain posted until water testing shows bacteria levels have decreased below the recreational water quality guideline.  Less often, a public beach may also be posted when floating debris, oils, scum, excessive algae growth, bad odours and turbidity are observed.

At the time of beach water sampling, the weather conditions, amount of rainfall, wind speed, wave height, number of bathers, waterfowl or animals (i.e., dogs) in the beach area and the clarity of the water are also checked. This information helps to inform what environmental factors are impacting the beach and whether it should be posted or not. 

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