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The good, the bad, the E. coli

How clean are our beaches? Well, as it turns out they are pretty clean.

In order to ensure the local waterways are safe to swim, Interior Health -- along with municipalities -- test the waters weekly.

Castanet conducted our own tests and had a water analysis company take a look. All 10 beaches or waterways we tested on August 5 and 6, 2014 were considered to be in the ‘safe level.’

To be in a ‘safe level’ a single E. coli test has to come back at less than 400 CFU per 100 ml of water. A CFU, is a ‘Colony-forming unit’ used in microbiology as an estimate of the number of viable bacteria or fungal cells in a sample.

Castanet tests show that Peachland’s beach on Beach Avenue was the dirtiest at 250 CFU/100 ml whereas Penticton’s Okanagan Lake Beach on Lakeshore Drive was cleanest at less than 2 CFU/100 ml.

The issue with these tests, and why they are conducted weekly, is that the results can vary greatly from day to day, from spot to spot and from movement of the current.

An example can be seen with Castanet’s result on Reiswig Regional Park Beach that showed the beach was clean on Aug 6, 2014 120 CFU/100 ml, but the municipalities results showed an unsafe level of 880 CFU/100 ml just a day before.

According to Interior Health’s Jennifer Jacobsen, if a single test comes back with a result over 400 CFU/100ml that waterway is given extra attention, supplement tests are done and closures, if needed, are discussed with local government and imposed.

“The municipalities do a ‘grab sample', so they are a really small sampling of a very big area of water and they are only done once a week,” explains Jacobsen. “Because of that there is always a risk that what we are seeing in that one sample is not consistent with what we would see in the rest of the week.”

Which is exactly what has happened in Lake Country, where results found E.coli levels higher than the safe levels at Reiswig Regional Park.

When water was tested at the park by the municipality on Aug 5, 2014 levels were well over 400. They hit 880 CFUs and when the test was repeated Aug 11, tests were again high at 1000 CFUs. In response, the municipality, in consultation with Interior Health, issued a swimming advisory for Reiswig Regional Park and its neighbour Beasley Park.  

Every week local municipalities dip special bottles into Okanagan waterways and test for E. coli levels to ensure the water is safe.

Caro Analytical is a Kelowna company who takes in the majority of these water tests for Interior Health. They've been doing the tests for over 20 years, and Castanet used the same company to test our samples. 

Business Manager Ed Hoppe says tests are conducted to ensure our water meets the Canadian Recreational Water Guidelines.

According to Castanet's tests, here are the top five cleanest water on beaches in the Okanagan (best to worst):

  1. Okanagan Lake Beach - Penticton
  2. Gellatly Wharf - West Kelowna
  3. Skaha Beach - Penticton
  4. ​Kin Beach - Vernon
  5. Gyro Beach - Kelowna

At the bottom of our list: the main beach in Peachland on Beach Ave. and runner up is City Park, Hot Sands Beach in Kelowna.

Castanet tested for both E. coli and Fecal Coliform, Interior Health only releases information on E. coli. This is from the Environment ministry:

Coliform bacteria are described and grouped, based on their common origin or characteristics, as either Total or Fecal Coliform. The Total group includes Fecal Coliform bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E .coli), as well as other types of Coliform bacteria that are naturally found in the soil. Fecal Coliform bacteria exist in the intestines of warm blooded animals and humans, and are found in bodily waste, animal droppings, and naturally in soil. Most of the Fecal Coliform in fecal material (feces) is comprised of E. coli, and the serotype E. coli 0157:H7 is known to cause serious human illness.

The presence of Fecal Coliform in well water may indicate recent contamination of the groundwater by human sewage or animal droppings which could contain other bacteria, viruses, or disease causing organisms. This is why Coliform bacteria are considered “indicator organisms”; their presence warns of the potential presence of disease causing organisms and should alert the person responsible for the water to take precautionary action.  

The graph below shows all of the results Caro reported to Castanet on the 10 Okanagan beaches. Beside that number we have compiled the most recent three results Interior Health posted for the same beach.  

Body of water tested

(Results show CFU E. Coli count in 100 ml of water - the second number on our tests show Fecal Coliforms in the same 100 ml of water)

Castanet Test - Aug 5/6, 2014 Interior Health Tests - July 28/29, 2014 Interior Health Tests - Aug 5/6, 2014 Interior Health Tests - Aug 11/12, 2014 
City Park - Hot Sands Beach - Kelowna 220 - 390 32 / 2 15 / 6 14 / 18
Gyro Beach - Kelowna 40 - 45 12 / 60 24 / 28 30 / 15
Peachland Beach on Beach Avenue 250 - 380 n/a n/a n/a
Gellatly Wharf - West Kelowna  2 - 130 54 / 56 32 / 4 13 / 2
Okanagan Lake Beach - Penticton  *<2 - 31 10 / 2 140 / 34 24 / 20
Skaha Beach - Penticton 10 - 120 8 / 8 8 / 12 23 /8
Penticton Channel at Fairview Road 170 - 270 10 / 30 20 / 50 20 / 18
Kin Beach - Vernon 15 - 110 12 / 25 / 8 50 / 16 / 10 22 / 18 / 12
Kal Beach at Rotary Pier - Coldstream 120 - 240 34 / 32 / 48 42 / 40/ 34 50 / 80 / 80
Reiswig Regional Park Beach - Lake Country  120 - 120 94 880 1000

*< Less than the Reported Detection Limit (RDL) - the RDL may be higher than the MRL due to various factors such as dilutions, limited sample volume, high moisture, or interferences.

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