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Splashing safely: avoiding recreational water illnesses2 min read

Aug 5, 2022 2 min

Splashing safely: avoiding recreational water illnesses2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Written by: Gina Alderman, Region of Waterloo Public Health

There’s nothing like dipping your toes in water on a hot summer day to beat the heat. But how do you know the water is safe to get in? There’s a science that happens behind the scenes.

Public health inspectors inspect public recreational water facilities and enforce provincial regulations, to make sure the risks of injury or water-related illnesses are low.

Recreational water illnesses can happen by swallowing or having contact with contaminated water, or water with unbalanced chemistry, such as too much chlorine. Commonly reported symptoms of recreational water illness include diarrhea, ear infections and skin irritations. At man-made recreational water facilities, like pools and splash pads, the water must be continuously disinfected and maintained to avoid contamination.

Local beaches at Shade’s Mills and Laurel Creek conservation areas are owned by the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA). The GRCA conducts water quality sampling for bacterial (E.coli) counts every other week between June and August. While this data is not useful in identifying public health risk when swimming in natural water bodies, it’s used to determine long-term trends in the water quality at our swimming areas over time.

Most often, beach closures happen because of capacity limits, but can also happen due to chemical or sewage spills, or the presence of blue-green algae, which can be toxic to both humans and animals. Closures due to contaminations like these are rare and the GRCA works closely with Public Health to identify any potential issues.  

Here are some tips to help keep you safe from recreational water illnesses if you’re heading to the beach this summer:

  • Check conditions for local and provincial park beaches before you head out.
  • Never swallow beach water.
  • Avoid swimming in cloudy water – it means sand and silt have been stirred up, and that can increase levels of bacteria in the water.
  • Recent heavy rain, high wind and waves, and many birds in the area can all affect the quality of water and increase the risk of getting sick. Avoid swimming in these conditions.
  • Do not go swimming if you have an infection or open wound.
  • Do not put your head underwater if you are susceptible to eye, ear, nose or throat infections
  • Clean your hands after playing in the sand or water.

Learn more about recreational water safety.