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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" when there is too much bacteria in the water and there is an increased risk of infection.

Weather and other environmental factors affect the water quality of 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. To help protect 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 infections known as swimmer's itch. To learn more about swimmer's itch and hot to prevent it, please see the Centres for Communicable Diseases 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. If a municipality requests to add a new beach to our sampling program, one of our public health inspectors will conduct an on-site assessment of the beach for safety and suitability purposes (e.g. beach signage, sectioned off swimming area, water safety/rescue equipment, lifeguard chairs, etc.). If the water is used for recreational purposes and the public health inspector determines it is safe for swimmers (e.g. no risk of possible swimmer entanglement or visibility issues, no extreme drop-offs, etc.), the beach will be added to our sampling program.
Beaches are monitored to protect swimmers from illnesses that may be linked to unacceptable bacteria levels. Swimming in water with unacceptable bacteria levels can result in an increased risk of infection of the ears, eyes, nose and throat or gastrointestinal and stomach illnesses if the water is swallowed.

The Ontario Provincial Laboratory analyzes each 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, a number of samples across the beach area must be collected.

Our recreational water sampling program also includes monitoring beaches for blue-green algae. If you visit a beach with blue-green algae blooms, we recommend avoiding swimming in the algae blooms.

We do not routinely monitor chemical quality of water at beaches. However, if there is a 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.

When there is evidence that bacteria levels exceed provincial guidelines and there may be a higher than normal risk of infection, an advisory warning is posted to let you and others know that the water may be unsafe for swimming. Before a beach is posted, results from several water samples are collected and assessed. When the bacteria levels increase to levels that make the water unsuitable for recreational use, a swimming advisory is posted. The owner of the beach (usually the municipality) posts advisory warning signs in visible locations to warn swimmers of the potential risk. The signs will normally remain posted at the beach until sample testing show bacteria levels have returned to an acceptable range.
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 is gathered so that we can track and assess the water quality over the years.
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If you have any questions or concerns that require a response, please contact Health Connection directly.

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