Map of Simcoe Muskoka

Environment

Contamination and availability of food and water

Climate and weather are key factors to water and food, quality, quantity, and access. Increased temperatures as a result of climate change can increase the risk of food contamination as a result of an increase in human activities during the warmer months (i.e. barbeques) and the enhanced ability for pathogens to survive in foods. Similarly, water quality can be impacted by rising temperatures leading to reduced access and quality. Extreme weather events such as flooding, severe storms, and droughts can also impact food and water availability, and increase the potential for contamination. This HealthSTATS section covers water-related indicators.

Number of beach advisories

Clean and safe public beaches are an important resource, but weather and other environmental factors affect recreational water quality. Things that can increase bacteria levels at our public bathing beaches include:

  • heavy rain;
  • flooding events;
  • urban or agricultural runoff;
  • birds;
  • outdoor air temperatures; and
  • an increase in the number of swimmers.

Recreational water activities, including swimming in water with high bacteria levels, can result in an increased risk for infection of the ears, eyes, nose, throat, and gastrointestinal illnesses if water is ingested. Exposure to recreational water with high levels of bacteria impacts rates of enteric illness in our region. Climate change is impacting water quality and water safety as a result of drought and rainfall events.

The SMDHU and municipal and conservation authority partners monitor select public bathing beaches from June to August each year. A list of beaches included in the monitoring program and their current status is available through the health unit Inspection Connection webpage. Provincial park beaches, such as Wasaga Beach, are monitored by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. Beach water quality results for these parks are available on their website.

A swimming advisory is posted if E. coli levels in water samples collected at the beach exceed the Canadian Recreational Water Guideline standard.

In 2018, the health unit issued 46 swimming advisories across 21 of the 51 beaches sampled. The number of beaches with posted advisories varies each year, from 18 in 2016 to 27 in 2015. When advisories are posted for a beach, they will remain in effect until follow-up testing of the water shows that the bacterial contamination is gone. Advisories may remain in effect after several samples.

191126BeachPostings2014to2018

Please note that the criteria used by health units across Ontario for posting beaches changed from >100 E. coli per 100mL in 2015 to >200 E. coli per 100mL in 2016 to better align with the Canadian Guidelines.

Number of confirmed blue-green algae events per year

Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, are microscopic organisms that can be found in streams, lakes, and other surface water. Blue-green algae can present health concerns, particularly when comprised of toxin producing cells. Climate change has the potential to impact the occurrence of blue-green algae blooms. In Simcoe Muskoka, as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns become more extreme, there is the potential for blue-green algae blooms to increase in duration, distribution, and intensity across the region in the future.

SMDHU works in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks to assess blue-green algae blooms. Additional information on blue-green algae and a list of waterways currently impacted by blue-green algae blooms is available on the health unit website.

From 2009 to 2018, ten bodies of water (lakes and creeks) across Simcoe Muskoka experienced blue-green algae blooms, with between zero and six blooms reported per year.

191126BlueGreenAlgae2009to2018