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Environmental and Workplace Health

Recreational Water

Canadians everywhere understand the importance of clean, safe recreational bathing waters. Whether they are used for sport or relaxation, health or pleasure, there is something about the enjoyment and sense of well-being derived from the experience that cannot easily be matched.

Maintaining safe recreational waters requires a concerted effort from all of its stakeholders. From government at all levels, to local businesses and industry, to beach managers, community members and recreational water users - we all have a role to play in helping keep our beaches clean and our swimming waters safe.

The Risk Management Approach to Ensuring Safe Recreational Bathing Waters

The most effective way to ensure that our waters remain safe for use is to become aware of the types of hazards (microbiological, chemical and physical) that can impact a bathing area. Examples can range from industrial and sewage discharges, to overland runoff from heavy rainfall, to safety hazards such as underwater obstructions or currents.

Under the Risk Management approach to safe recreational water quality, a inspection of the bathing area is first used to identify all of the sources of risk to human health and safety. Then, appropriate procedures or management actions are introduced as barriers to reduce these risks. This concept is similar to the Multiple Barrier Approach used in the management of safe drinking water supplies. Using this approach, compliance with the Guidelines becomes but one key piece of a larger picture of preventative risk management.

For example, if an inspection of the bathing area has determined that the water quality results are poor following rainstorms, one action might be to restrict bather access immediately following periods of heavy rainfall. Knowing what the risks are and how to manage them is an important way to help ensure that our recreational water areas remain open for everyone to enjoy.

Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality

The objective of Health Canada's Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality is the protection of public health. The Guidelines describe the current scientific knowledge regarding the health and safety hazards associated with recreational water use. Principally, these are the risk of infection from contact with pathogenic microorganisms, and illness or injury as a result of physical or chemical properties of the water. The Guidelines also discuss the limits for the pollution indicator bacteria used to monitor both fresh and marine water quality. Other topics include aesthetic issues and water sampling and analysis, and instructions are provided for conducting inspections and the posting of beaches.

Other Supporting Documentation

This section contains other information on recreational water issues in Canada. Here you can find a link to Health Canada's Water Talk fact sheet on Recreational Water Quality. You can also find information on the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group on Recreational Water Quality, and participate in consultations of documents submitted for public review.