Water quality at beaches
We maintain many beautiful beaches on the shores of Okanagan Lake. However, lake water is not pristine, and beach water quality can fluctuate due to numerous factors including lake currents, runoff and the outflow of creeks, changing environmental factors and waterfowl and animal waste.
Water quality is typically poorer in the summer when the warm weather escalates bacterial growth and swimmers stir up the lake bottom.
We focus on keeping you safe by:
- Testing the quality of beach water in collaboration with the Interior Health Authority
- Placing swimming advisories when necessary
We’re also taking several measures to enhance beach water quality, including the implementation of a valley-wide Goose Management Plan research to identify the sources of bacteria; increased garbage removal; public education about personal hygiene at beach parks; and bylaw action regarding pet waste and bird offences.
We have put together some helpful tips on this page that you can follow to stay safe during and after a swim in the lake, and to protect the beach.
From June to September, our staff collect beach water quality samples and forward them to Interior Health for testing and dissemination of results. Beaches that historically have shown higher than acceptable coliform counts at certain periods during the summer months are sampled weekly, with no fewer than five samples in a 30-day period.
Interior Health tests the following Kelowna beaches:
- Boyce Gyro Beach
- City Park
- Tugboat Bay in Waterfront Park
You can check the latest information on beach water quality by visiting the Public Beaches page on the Interior Health Authority website.
- Disease-causing microorganisms in water include bacteria, viruses and parasites (e.g. Giardia and Cryptosporidium). These disease-causing organisms can be discharged directly to water bodies or transported with surface runoff. Sources are numerous and include discharge of untreated sewage, runoff from agricultural activities and wastes from waterfowl and wild and domestic animals. Fertilizers, pesticides, and garbage can also contaminate beach water.
- Beach water quality is typically poorer in summer due to warmer water temperatures and the number of people swimming. Contamination is also more likely to increase during and after rainstorms.
- Escherichia coli (E. coli) belongs to a group of bacteria called fecal coliforms that originate in the digestive tract of warm-blooded animals. E. coli is a common human bacteria primarily used as indicator bacteria and shouldn’t be confused with E. Coli 0157:H7, which causes outbreaks of bloody diarrhea. However, there are categories of E. coli that cause diarrhea.
A swimming advisory is a notice to swimmers that bacterial levels are currently higher than those allowed in the Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality. The maximum allowable number of E. coli bacteria in recreational water is 200 per 100-millilitre sample.
The risk of infection is directly related to bacterial counts in the water. When E. coli reaches 200 units per 100 millilitre sample, it’s expected that one per cent of bathers may develop gastrointestinal illness (GI) if these bacteria are ingested. For every one GI illness, two to three other illnesses - skin rashes (swimmer’s itch excluded) and eye, ear and throat symptoms - can be expected. The very young, the very old and people with weakened immunity are the most susceptible.
When a swimming advisory is in place, signage will be posted at the affected beach. Up-to-date information is also available by calling the Swimming Advisory Hotline at 250-469-8455.
Once testing shows bacteria levels have returned to acceptable levels the swimming advisory will be lifted and the signage will be removed.
- Avoid swallowing lake water
- Avoid swimming with an open cut or wound
- Avoid swimming for 24 hours after a significant rainfall
- Stay away from the water if you’re experiencing digestive or intestinal problems
- Wash your hands before handling food
- Don’t feed the birds
- Don’t take your pet to most beaches; dogs are only permitted at the Cedar Creek Park beach
- Don’t litter or discard food on the beach
- Change diapered children in the bathroom frequently, not at the beach
- Dispose of boat sewage in onshore sanitary facilities
- Wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet or after changing diapers
- Call 250-71-PARKS if you see something that needs our attention
- Never bury waste in beach sand