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Safe Water

Elevated Fluoride Levels in Drinking Water

Small Drinking Water Systems


Beach Water Quality Overview

This page was reviewed or revised on Monday, June 25, 2012 1:37 PM

Beach Water Quality Overview

Why beaches are posted?

Beach information signs

When to Avoid swimming

Location of Beach Signs

What's polluting our beaches?

After a Heavy Rainfall

How can you help protect beach water quality?

Healthy Lake Huron Newsletter

Beach Sampling Updates



During the summer, Lambton County beaches provide tourists and local residents with a relaxing environment to swim and play recreational sports. To ensure that the water at public beaches is safe for swimming, Lambton Public Health conducts a beach water quality program.

The Medical Officer of Health determines which beach areas are to be routinely monitored and tested during the summer. According to the Ontario public health guidelines, a public beach is defined as “a beach area, owned and operated by a municipality, which has a supervised aquatics program or is staffed by a lifeguard”. Additionally, the Medical Officer of Health may decide to monitor other beach areas when there is reason to believe that recreational water use may result in a waterborne illness.

The following beaches are monitored and tested weekly by Lambton Public Health:

  • Grand Bend (North and South Beaches)
  • Canatara Park
  • Highland Glen
  • Bright's Grove (Including Mike Weir Park)
  • Ipperwash Main Beach
  • Pinery Provincial Park

Each week, from late May to early September, water at these beaches are tested and monitored for high levels of bacteria, excessive algae growth, or other contaminants that could cause negative health effects associated with swimming. Contamination of recreational water can cause a number of illnesses, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin ailments, and infections of the eye, ear, nose or throat.

Why beaches are posted

Ontario beaches are posted with warnings of possible health risks when elevated E. coli levels are detected. E. coli bacteria are found in the intestines and feces of all warm-blooded animals, and most strains are harmless. The water is tested for E. coli because it is an ‘indicator organism,’ meaning that it indicates the presence of other harmful bacteria that may affect our health. Studies have shown that where there are high levels of E. coli in the water, there is a greater occurrence of swimming-associated illnesses.

Warnings are posted when the levels of E. coli exceed the provincial guidelines (100 E. coli per 100 ml of water), with the Medical Officer of Health making the final decision. Once a beach has been posted for elevated E. coli levels, more frequent water samples are taken. Beach postings are removed after E. coli levels decrease to acceptable levels.

Beach information signs

To assist the public in determining if it is safe to swim, all beaches monitored by Lambton Public Health are equipped with information signs.

The Yellow and Black “CAUTION” sign is an information sign only. It DOES NOT INDICATE THE BEACH IS POSTED. It is intended to caution the public that while the beach may not be posted as unsafe for swimming, conditions can change day-by-day and even hour-by-hour depending on factors, such as wind, rainfall, and wildlife. Historical water quality data has shown that cloudy beach water caused by heavy rainfall or high wave activity may be contaminated with high levels of bacteria for up to 2 days following such conditions.

These signs give the swimmer the opportunity to assess the present conditions and make an informed decision on his or her use of the beach. If the water is cloudy and a swimmer cannot see his/her feet at waist depth of an adult, the location is not recommended for swimming for at least 2 days. This sign will be posted at beach locations at the beginning of the swimming season in early June and remain until late August.

The Red and Black “WARNING” sign notifies swimmers that the water is UNSAFE for swimming due to high levels of E.coli bacteria that may pose a risk to human health.

These signs will be removed and replaced with the above “Caution” sign when beach sample results indicate that the bacteria have returned to acceptable levels.

When to avoid swimming

Since the water quality at Lake Huron beaches can change day to day, and sometimes even hour to hour following a heavy rainfall or high wave activity, Lambton Public Health encourages the public to read the signs posted at area beaches before going into the water and to avoid swimming if:

  1. The beach is posted with the Red and Black “WARNING” sign
  2. The water is cloudy and you cannot see your feet when standing at waist depth of an adult.

Starting in early June, you can check your local newspaper or listen to the radio for updates on the water quality of Lambton County beaches. Before you hit the beach you can also call the Beach Water Quality Info line at 519 383-3816, toll free 1-800-667-1839 ext. 3816 or visit this website for recent updates.

Location of Beach Signs

Click on beach links below to download a map showing beach sign locations.


Style of Sign



Bright’s Grove


2 Posts (on Old Lakeshore Road)

1 Large Stand (Mike Weir Park)


  • Beach access stairs across from change rooms by Estella St.

  • Beach access stairs by Bay St.

  • Path to beach at Mike Weir Park

Canatara Park

Large Stand


  • Entrance at West end of beach by red pavilion and public washrooms

  • By lifeguard station

Highland Glen

Large Stand


  • Beach path by boat launch area

  • East beach path entrance

Grand Bend
North Beach

Large Stand


  • Southwest entrance to beach

  • Lifeguard chair

  • North of Main St. by Public Parking lot and condominiums

  • Northeast end of beach

Grand Bend
South Beach

Large Stand


  • Lake Road path to beach

  • River Road path to beach

Ipperwash Main Beach

Large Stand


  • Beach entrances at Area 1, Area 2, Area 3, Area 4, and Area 5

Centennial Park

Permanently Posted, No Swimming Sign


  • East of the boat launch, near the children’s playground.

Healthy Lake Huron

What’s polluting our beaches?

Storm water runoff, combined with sewer overflows, sewage treatment plant by-passes, agricultural runoff, faulty septic systems and large populations of waterfowl which colonize a beach or the surrounding area all contribute to water pollution which can result in beach postings.

In urban areas, storm water runoff contains bacteria from pet and wildlife feces, illegally connected sanitary sewers and improperly installed basement washrooms.

In rural areas, beaches are usually posted as a result of bacterial contamination from poorly maintained and located domestic septic systems and from agricultural activities, particularly livestock operations. Bacteria may enter streams from manure and feedlot runoff, livestock access to streams and the disposal of milkhouse wash water to nearby drainage ditches and streams.

After a Heavy Rainfall

 Beach postings often occur after rainstorms. Rainwater washes fecal material from cats, dogs, birds and other wildlife into storm sewers which flow directly into nearby rivers and lakes. Many older cities have combined sewers which were designed to transport both sanitary wastes and storm water to the nearest sewage treatment plant. However, during heavy rainstorms combined sewer systems are designed to discharge any excess flows directly to rivers and lakes without treatment.

In some areas, beaches are posted with permanents signs warning bathers of the dangers of swimming within 48 hours after a heavy rainstorm.

Taking action on beach water quality

Locally, ongoing programs focusing on the reduction and eventual elimination of bacterial contaminants, such as sewer separation projects, construction of storm water retention facilities and installation of sanitary sewers, has resulted in the improvement to water quality of the St. Clair River and Lake Huron.

How can you help protect beach water quality?

We all need to do our part to improve water quality. Here are some ways you can make a difference.

  • Upgrade septic systems and keep them in good working order
  • Pet owners should observe local ‘stoop and scoop’ bylaws and remove dog droppings immediately from city streets, public parks and private property
  • Where appropriate, detach eavestroughs from sewers so they discharge onto lawns. This reduces the amount of rainwater going directly into sewers.
  • Reduce your household water use. This helps capacity problems at some municipal sewage treatment plants.
  • Ensure that washroom additions to your home are connected properly to the sanitary sewer pipes.
  • In agricultural areas, fence livestock away from streams and provide them with alternate water sources. This will benefit herd health and the environment.
  • Ensure that runoff from feedlots and manure piles are properly contained.

(Adapted from The Ontario Ministry of Environment pamphlet "Why Beaches Are Posted")

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