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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Simcoe Beaches Cleaner This Year

Beach postings in Georgina because of E. coli contamination dropped sharply this summer compared to last year, thanks to the hot, dry weather.
Beaches along Lake Simcoe and Cook's Bay were posted 78 times, compared to 203 times the year before, according to figures released by York Region public health.

Last year's cool, wet summer was the worst since testing began in 1996. Beaches are posted when levels of E. coli bacteria are greater than the provincial guideline of 100 E. coli per 100 millilitres of water. This summer's E. coli counts ranged from 10 per 100 millilitres of water to a high of 720.

As a comparison, readings in parts of flooded New Orleans topped 60,000 E. coli.

Along with cleaner beaches, there was an increase in visitors to waterfront parks this summer, leisure services manager Faye Richardson said.

"We were up at all the parks. It was a fantastic summer," she said.

There were few problems with crowd control and the paid duty officers the town hired kept things in check, she said. Revenues were up as well, Ms Richardson said, although the final figures have yet to be reported.

"We did hire extra staff for security reasons," she said.

Becky Hester, York's senior public health inspector, said there were changes to the testing program this year to make it more efficient.

This summer, testing was done every Wednesday, instead of twice weekly. Beaches that tested positive for E. coli were re-tested the next day.

"By sampling and then re-sampling the beaches that are posted, we were able to lift some postings before the weekend. We ended up sampling a number of beaches more than we did last year," she said.

Bacteria can be increased by seasonal and storm runoff, large populations of waterfowl, warm water temperatures, boating and domestic pet wastes or malfunctioning private sewage disposal systems.

"The quality of recreational waters is best estimated by looking at trends over time, for example, seasonal and yearly," Ms Hester said.

In addition to the testing, permanent rainfall signs were posted at all beaches warning swimmers not to go into the water for 48 hours after a heavy rainfall -- about an inch or more, she said, citing the increased potential of E. coli contamination being flushed into the lake.

Town-owned De La Salle Park again topped the list for posted beaches with 21, compared to 23 times last year, followed by Willow Beach with 17, the same as last year, and Jackson's Point Beach with 13, compared to 21 times last year.

The town's North Gwillimbury Park on Lake Drive and Varney Road continued its six-year string of being cleanest beach in Georgina with no postings. Port Bolster showed the biggest improvement over last year with five postings compared to 42.

Other beaches (last year's figures in brackets): Balfour Beach, 1 (5); Claredon Beach, 1 (28); Franklin Beach 4 (9); Holmes Point 1 (14); Island Grove 2 (0); Keswick 3 (0); Glenwoods 6 (30); Peninsula Resort 1 (7); Willow Dock 3 (7).

In York Region, Sunset Beach on Lake Wilcox was the most contaminated with 21 postings, tying De La Salle, while Shadow Lake in Whitchurch-Stouffville was the cleanest, with zero postings.

Beach water testing ended last week and will resume next June.

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