Port Stanley main beach under water advisory for five days

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Visitors and residents alike descended on Port Stanley’s main beach on Thursday to kick back and enjoy the sand and water. Had they come just two days earlier they would have hit a water advisory, which was issued from Aug. 4 to 8 because of unsafe levels of bacteria in the lake.

During heat waves or when there’s a storm the waters tend to get stirred up and the bacteria levels surge. This summer there hasn’t been many water advisories, said Katherine Thompson, communications and marketing coordinator with economic development and tourism department.

Although Port Stanley’s main beach had an advisory last week, the little beach and the Erie rest beach didn’t.

Port Stanley has a flag system in place where the colour of flag raised indicates if the water is safe to swim in or not.

“We definitely encourage visitors and residents to heed those flags because it’s better safe than sorry. Be cautious and keep yourself safe,” Thompson said.

Thompson admits that beaches are a big tourist draw in Elgin County, which could be affected with extended water advisories. She said she’s confident that there’s a lot out there for people to do that doesn’t involve the beaches and so water advisories won’t play a big role in tourists’ minds.

“There’s so much to do at the beach and in Port Stanley and in our port villages that has nothing to do with even going in the water. So, we haven’t found that it’s really been a deterrent to people coming,” Thompson said.

Thompson pointed out that the main beach has been a designated Blue Flag beach for many years, which means it must abide by a certain set of standards, including monitoring, safety, management and education.

“In order to get that designation every year the beach has to meet very high standards,” Thompson said. “The beach is a lovely place. Sunbathing, playing in the sand, beach volleyball, there’s so much people can do there when they can’t go in the water,” Thompson said.

Central Elgin tests the water each week and the Elgin St. Thomas Health Unit sends out advisories warning people not to go in the water if the tests come back with high levels of bacteria.

Cathie Walker, director of health protection with the health unit said when an advisory is issued it will stay that way until the next set of results are in a week later.

There hasn’t been a swimming advisory issued for the main beach this summer besides the most recent one, Walker said.

“In the case of main beach there are several samples taken and then we average it out and if that number is over 100 then that means the level of bacterial contamination is higher than the threshold level that’s set for recreational levels,” Walker said.

High levels of bacteria in the water can cause gastrointestinal illness if someone drinks the water by accident. It can also cause infections in the ear, nose, eye and/or throat when people go in the water.

Walk said there’s nothing that can be done to lower the levels of bacteria in the water, that it’s just a matter of waiting.

“Lake Erie, because it’s a shallow lake, it does tend to be more changeable but we haven’t had a huge issue in terms of having sustained periods of time where the beaches have had to be closed,” Walker said.

Walker admitted that because the water is only test weekly the status could change without the advisory being taken down.

“We’ve never sampled it frequently enough to know how changeable it really is and how quickly it can turn around. But certainly it’s possible that within that five day period it was better before we retested it,” Walker said.

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