Communications Coordinators meeting, 2022-05-14

09:00 Saturday May 14, 2022
location: online via Zoom


Invited guests:

Communications Coordinators and designated alternates:

ACLA financial update

ACW Township

Questions from the floor:

Maitland Valley Conservation Authority

Shoreline Mapping

Healthy Lake Huron update

Water quality results

ACLA/MVCA follow-on to the Stream Testing program

Huron Perth Public Health beach-testing progam

A representative was invited to give an update, but, due to the demands of COVID on the HPPH teams, they were unable to participate. Hopefully next year things will be more normal. In the meantime, we are invited to document any questions/concerns we have, and they will respond.

from Nigel Bellchamber, Amberley Beach

2021 was not a good year for the Amberley and Ashfield Park beaches as per the results posted on the HPPU website, and in fact 2020 and 2019 were not particularly good either. And when two consecutive tests (one being a follow-up) exceeded the allowable range I am not sure where or how they posted the warning/no swim advisory. People should be informed where to look.

We know from the work that Mike McElhone/ACLA/MVCA did over many years that the beaches are under the influence of watercourses that cross HWY 21, particularly the rivers.

We also know that E Coli can overwinter and reproduce in the interstitial zone from the work Todd Howell of MOE (now MOECP) and colleagues did and published.

Further, Todd Howell and others went on to try and determine the original source of the E coli and determined it to be overwhelmingly livestock in origin, with some wildlife and little human waste included.

The Abstract for the research report reads as follows:

Repetitive element-polymerase chain reaction (REP-PCR) DNA fingerprinting and library-based microbial source tracking (MST) methods were utilized to investigate the potential sources of Escherichia coli pollution in recreational waters of southeastern Lake Huron. In addition to traditional sources such as humans, agriculture, and wildlife, environmentally persistent E. coli isolates were included in the identification library as a separate library unit consisting of the E. coli strains isolated from interstitial water on the beach itself. Our results demonstrated that the dominant source of E. coli pollution of the lake was agriculture, followed by environmentally adapted E. coli strains, wildlife, and then humans. A similar ratio of contributing sources was observed in all samples collected from various locations including the river discharging to the beach in both 2005 and 2006. The high similarity between the compositions of E. coli communities collected simultaneously in the river and in the lake suggests that tributaries were the major overall sources of E. coli to the lake. Our findings also suggest that environmentally adapted strains (EAS) of E. coli should be included as one of the potential sources in future microbial source tracking efforts.

Ashfield Park Beach and Amberley Beach are the two beaches in ACLA that most frequently test over the limit, for e-coli. At the moment, the other ACLA beaches do not. This information is contained in the current spreadsheet published by HPPH.

The only seemingly positive correlation between the excess tests at Amberley is with wind direction-generally from a southerly direction. Wave height, turbidity, and rainfall did not seem to offer significant correlations.

And what is south of Amberley Beach?

Ashfield Park Beach where the 18 Mile River outlets to Lake Huron, less than 1 km south of Amberley Beach. That is where Howell's studies took place. The 18 Mile also is the tile and municipal drain outlet for the the land to the east and south of Amberley which are subject to liquid waste from extensive livestock operations being sprayed at several times during the year, but most often mid-summer.

That spraying has also been the subject of frequent calls to the Provincial Spills Action Centre. Local farmers also comment on the "nutrient management" practices of the farm operations involved. As one recently put it, when sprayed and not worked in, or not injected, "what you smell is money being lost". But apparently the practice meets the requirements of the operator's nutrient management plan.

No charges have been laid by MOECP reps as spills are hard to observe by the time they respond. Contact with OMAFRA regarding better practices has been positive but indications are that it will take some time for significant farm practices to change with this operator.

I think that ACLA needs to ask HPPH to take duplicate samples of Ashfield Park and Amberley Beach so that DNA testing can be done where the results are well over the allowable limit for safe bathing so that the source can be confirmed if not pinpointed.

Why should other beaches in ACLA care? The question was posed in the Ottawa Citizen in 2003 "What is Fouling the Beaches of Huron"? At that time no one was sure. We are sure now, given the work of Provincial scientists in response to the article's challenge.

It may take a combination of higher fertilizer prices, peer pressure, HPPH, municipal and and Ministry staff attention to improve safety for the thousands that visit and unwittingly swim in these two well-attended public beaches in ACW each year. Now is not the time to sit back and wait.

Recommendations from the floor

The recommendations highlighted below received responses from HPPH.

  1. Whenever the testing results are above the accepted limits, HPPH should be posting "unsafe for swimming" signs that are prominently visible at the beach and at the nearby 18-Mile riverside, until subsequent results are within limit.
    HPPH responded:When beach sample results warrant posting, HPPH does have signs posted at each beach which are subsequently affixed with our warning placard to notify users of the risks associated with the beach due to the adverse results. Unfortunately there are circumstances where signs get removed by the general public and public health is not notified. This is the case for your particular location, however, a sign should be located at the beach access. As an FYI we are in the process of updating our signs and once complete we will be replacing previous signs with new ones. There are also alternative methods available for the public to obtain public beach information – our website’s public tableau dashboards Huron Perth Recreational Water Quality or via our website. We also have a phone line which provides up to date information regarding postings (1-888-221-2133, extension 2501).
  2. HPPH should include DNA testing of the follow-up samples that are taken each time results exceed the limits, to help determine targets for corrective action. If HPPH requires additional funding to make that happen, ACLA and the immediately-affected local beach associations should consider doing that.
    HPPH responded: Public Health is required to implement a beach water quality program according to the Recreational Water Protocol, 2019 and the Operational Approaches for Recreational Water Guideline, 2018 (under the Ontario Public Health Standards). Within this program we are mandated to complete E.coli sampling only and our assessment of public beaches is very prescribed. Our staff conduct environmental surveys during every sampling session to assess potential sources which may impact sample results. It is beyond our mandate to include additional or other exploratory sampling. DNA sampling can help provide information to better understand local pollution sources, however a robust analysis and inclusion of all potential sources – wild and domestic animals, agricultural, human must be considered and included. In the past, beach owners have explored this type of sampling through careful research, development of a plan and contracting appropriate private laboratories. Of the DNA sampling programs public health was involved with, our role was to assist with the interpretation of data and conduct the sampling. If you are interested in exploring DNA sampling for your beaches we would be happy to provide you with the contacts/laboratories that have expertise in this area and can provide you with cost estimates for sample shipping and processing. The former Huron County Health Unit did participate in cost sharing for sample shipping and processing when it was able to do so however, HPPH does not have money to contribute in 2022 nor do we anticipate that changing in 2023.
  3. ACW should assess its potential legal liabilities for promoting these areas as public beaches.
    HPPH responded: From a public health perspective, any recreational water body has inherent risks both from a safety and health perspective. Users of recreational water spaces, like a public beach must understand and utilize these spaces knowing that they are often unstaffed (eg: no lifeguards) and that the water is untreated and subject to natural pollution sources. Public Health, through signage at public beaches along the Lake Huron Shoreline and education and information on our website, allows the public to make informed decisions about where to swim. As an untreated body of water, there are risks which cannot be mitigated.
  4. It seems that existing regulations re the application of liquid manure are not being enforced. ACW, MVCA, and ACLA should pursue opportunities to work with Healthy Lake Huron, MOECP, OMAFRA, and the Huron County Federation of Agriculture to improve "normal farming practices" and nutrient-managment programs. Perhaps liquid manure should be required to be injected into the soil at the time of planting rather than being spread on the surface.
    HPPH responded: This is not something public health can provide comment on as it falls outside of our jurisdiction.

Issues from the floor


The meeting adjourned at 11:05. Next year's meeting will be at 9am on Saturday May 13, 2022; method and location TBD.