Canada geese can contribute to poor water quality in area lakes and beaches but they are far from the only issue when it comes to water quality in any of the Okanagan lakes.
Water quality at beaches across the Okanagan is tested every week for E-coli, a large group of bacteria that is commonly found in the intestines of humans and animals.
Most strains of E-coli are harmless to humans however some strains can make people sick. The bacteria is also used as an indicator organism during testing by Interior Health.
“If you have a lot of Canada Geese on the beach then definitely that is increasing the likelihood of E-coli,” said Jennifer Jacobsen, Interior Health team leader for environmental health. “E-coli is carried in the feces of most warm-blooded animals. Sometimes it may be pathogenic to humans and other times it may not, depending on the species. It’s also an indicator that something is not normal in the water.”
Water quality is tested every week with results published online on Fridays. Samples are taken from every beach in every municipality in the Okanagan except Peachland, which does not take part in the program. Water at as many as 50 beaches are tested against the Health Canada guidelines for recreational water quality and if samples get too high a notice will be posted at the beach, warning residents that water quality is poor and to swim at their own risk. It’s happened before in Lake Country. Last year Reiswig park was closed for a month after higher than normal E-coli ratings were found in the samples. Currently Pioneer Park in Lake Country is posted as having moderate water quality.
“I find Lake Country readings fluctuate quite a bit,” said Jacobsen. “It may have to do with Wood Lake being a bit shallower and having a little less turnover. (This year) we had one really high anomaly at Pioneer Park. The results have been good but one sample came back high so there could have been a large rain or wind event or the sampler grabbed a sample that contained feces.”
Staff within each municipality take the water samples, which are tested and paid for by Interior Health. Jacobsen said there are many factors that can lead to higher readings such as a failing septic system, a big rain that results in run off from beaches including public or dog beaches, which would sweep feces into the water.
But she adds that water quality in general in the Okanagan is excellent.
“Lake are not chlorinated or filtered and they are not swimming pools. They are a natural system so there is going to be things like swimmer’s itch or E-coli in the water. We monitor to see if there are extremes. We want the public to be aware. The beaches in the Okanagan are very safe to swim. We have excellent surface water quality. This program offers the public a level of security about our local beaches and I would recommend frequent beach users to visit the web site and check the water quality results.”
You can find the water quality results at www.interiorhealth.ca. Under the Your Environment tab you will find recreational water and current beach sampling results.