Island Health wants municipalities to monitor water quality at beachs like Comox Lake / George Le Masurier photo
Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?
The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials.
The health authority said it has already stopped monitoring water quality at popular public beaches, and that it had told municipalities last summer that the responsibility would shift to them.
Courtenay CAO David Allen says he hasn’t seen anything in writing from Island Health.
“The City of Courtenay has reached out to Island Health to request further information and documentation about this change in their policy,” Allen told Decafnation. “City staff are also in discussions with other regional local governments to identify roles and responsibilities.”
Shelley Ashfield, the Town of Comox’s chief engineer said the Town has not received any directive from VIHA regarding sampling of any public beaches at this time.
Rob Crisfield, manager of operations for the Village of Cumberland told Decafnation with possibly a hint of irony that “The village is not currently monitoring any beaches.”
And there was no response from the Comox Valley Regional District.
Regardless of where the communications went awry, no water quality testing has apparently occurred this summer at popular north Island beaches.
An Island Health officer said some municipalities in the south Island, such as Saanich and the Capital Regional District have taken on the task, while most have not.
Island Health has a long list of north Island beaches that should be monitored. They include beaches at Goose Spit, Kin Beach, Kitty Coleman, Kye Bay, Tribune Bay, Little Tribune Bay and Whaling Station Bay on Hornby Island, Miracle Beach, Point Holmes, Puntledge Park and Puntledge River swimming areas and Saratoga Beach.
Island Health says that environmental Health Officers have reviewed water quality results from samples at popular beach areas every summer and posted advisories where swimming was not recommended.
But, a VIHA spokesperson said, they were transferring the task of taking samples and providing oversight to municipalities as all the other BC health authorities have done. Island Health will pay the cost of analysis and courier fees to testing laboratories and will continue to post the results and advisories on their website.
Water quality tests for indicator bacteria identify whether fecal contamination exists and to what degree. A “no swimming” advisory would be posted if the average of several samples exceeds 200 E. coli or 35 Enterococci, or a single sample exceeds 400 E. Coli or 70 Enterococci per sample.
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Well, The manure spread on local farms smells-a lot.And it rains here in the Fall and Winter.This could be a contributing factor to Baynes Sound issues.And of course our sewage treatment plant,sending effluent from 40,000 plus into the ocean.
While some are blaming failed septics ,most rural residents take care of their own wastes -responsibly. They don’t dump effluent in the ocean or spread it on their property.
Only limited studies have been done by the CVRD-so contamination is obviously not an issue for the 66,000 residents who fund our Regional Government.
Good on you Ken for raising the issue. I’m not swimming in Comox Bay anymore, and few are.Times have changed.
Island Health’s decision to delegate responsibility for water quality testing to the municipalities before they have established monitoring programs is irresponsible but understandable. Island Health has absolutely no control over the sources of water contamination… the municipalities do. The primary health risk to swimmers is fecal contamination, especially human fecal contamination. There are several sources of fecal contamination including effluent from the CVRD Sewage Treatment Plant, municipal stormwater, failing septic systems, agricultural runoff and irresponsible boaters. The largest sources (sanitary and storm water) are the jurisdiction of municipalities.
I have no doubt that Island Health’s decision to pass responsibility for water quality monitoring to the municipalities is to make them more accountable.
What I find most surprising is that the provincial government and the people responsible for planning and engineering our liquid waste management plan are more concerned about the impact of fecal contamination on the shellfish industry than they are about beach-goers. Don’t believe me? Take a few minutes to download the April 2011 Comox Valley Regional District South Region Sewage Collection, Treatment and Discharge Study. Do a search on “fecal”. What you will find on page 15 is that the maximum government guideline for fecal contamination of shellfish at Baynes Sound is 14 cfu/100 ml. The maximum level of fecal contamination for swimmers at Goose Spit is 200 cfu/100 ml. The level of contamination to close a shellfish operation is 14 times less that what is allowable for swimmers!
Page 18 of the report states:
The maximum fecal coliform concentration in the effluent is recommended to be as high as 19,250 cfu/100 mL depending on the distance from the outfall at which the shellfish water quality guideline of 14 cfu/100 mL is required to be achieved.
In June of this year, I took a sample of the water flowing in Golf Creek. The fecal coliform level was 60,000 cfu/100 ml and the E Coli was 18,000 cfu/100 ml… significantly worse than what is being discharged from the sewage treatment plant!
Every time it rains, contaminants from roofs, gutters, roads, parking lots and drains wash into our freshwater streams and into the ocean. And, it isn’t just beaches that are a problem. Kids love to splash around in the local urban creeks. They are being exposed to dangerous levels of fecal contamination. Have you ever seen a sign along the creek trails warning people not to let their children play in the creek or let their dog drink from the creek? Why not? Well if our municipalities tested the water quality, found that it was unsafe and had to post warning signs, people might start asking difficult questions.
I encourage you to write to Ronna-Rae Leonard asking her why the Provincial government allowed Island Health to abandon water quality testing before the municipalities were ready to take over. You also might want to talk to your local municipal councilor about their plans to clean up the pollution of Comox harbor caused by stormwater runoff.
Finally, my advice is to avoid eating shellfish and swimming at any of the beaches in the Comox Valley until you have confidence that our municipalities are acting responsibly.