Kelowna beaches would be closed much more often, with the resulting hit to tourism, if stringent new
water-quality standards are imposed.
A more rigorous approach to posting No Swimming notices favoured by Interior Health could result in beach closures when there is no significant risk to swimmers, city officials say.
And Kelowna's tourism industry - worth an estimated $280 million annually and a factor in more than 11,000 jobs - could be seriously affected if beach closures on Okanagan Lake became routine, city
councillors will hear today.
"A fragile tourism economy could be damaged if an advisory is issued when in fact there is no significant concern," reads part of a report to council by park services manager Ian Wilson.
City council is expected to pass a resolution opposing imposition of the proposed changes to water-quality testing.
Staff would also be told to lobby provincial and federal officials to try ensure the more stringent standards are not introduced this summer.
All health authorities around B.C are considering adopting new water-quality standards promoted by Health Canada. These regulations would require a beach be closed to swimmers if routine testing reveals one sample with a fecal coliform count of more than 400 parts per 100 millilitres of water.
But Wilson says it's not unusual for coliform counts to spike up, then quickly return to low levels.
"On any given day, the testing can yield a count greater than 400 E. coli/100 ml, although this in infrequent, and then return a normal or low count the
following day," Wilson said.
Currently, whenever a high count is detected at a beach, four more samples are immediately taken and tested. The beach is only then closed if the average of those five samples is above 200 E. coli/100 ml.
Under this current protocol, which city staff say works fine to protect the public, no Kelowna beaches have been closed to swimming in recent years.
Health officials estimate one per cent of swimmers might develop gastrointestinal problems, such as general discomfort and diarrhea, if beachwater has a coliform count of 200 E. coli/100 ml.
"When the count doubles to 400 E. coli/100 ml, the percentage of people who might become ill only increases by 0.2 per cent," Wilson said.
"In other words, if 1,000 people are on the beach, this is only an increased risk to two people," he says. "Therefore, even at 400 E. coli/100 ml, it does not
appear the new guideline significantly improves the protection of public health."