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Councillors say no to Blue Flag designation

Oshawa’s water quality feared to be a breaking point for designation

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

lakeview park 2 (web)

A Blue Flag designation would require Oshawa’s beaches to undergo rigorous water quality testing, something city staff feel would prevent the beaches from achieving the designation.

Instead of flying a blue flag above Oshawa’s beaches, council has decided to wave a white flag instead.

Councillors at the community services committee have voted in favour of a recommendation from staff to not go forward with pursuing a Blue Flag designation for the city’s sandy hotspots.

The Blue Flag monicker would add Oshawa’s lakefront destinations to a list of internationally renowned beaches that are among the best in the world for cleanliness, environmental stewardship and services for beach-clad tourists.

However, the continuing water quality issues in Lake Ontario had staff worried that the $500 spent to have a feasibility study done on the prospects of Oshawa getting a Blue Flag would be a waste.

“The material issue is the water quality and that would be the challenge in us achieving this certification,” said Jag Sharma, the city’s commissioner of community services.

He added that while the city’s beaches are “ very much in line” with the majority of the Blue Flag program’s requirements, in terms of signage and practices for keeping the beaches clean, the water quality would be a significant impediment.

The Blue Flag program requires 80 per cent of monitoring results at designated beaches to meet provincial standards.

Through the Region of Durham’s beach monitoring program, Oshawa’s beaches are tested on a weekly basis from June through August for elevated levels of E. coli bacteria. If levels are too high for swimming, which generally occurs after a heavy rainfall as debris and waste water is pushed into Lake Ontario, the beach is posted as unsafe.

In the 14 weeks of testing for this past summer, Lakeview Beach East was open 79 per cent of the time.

Blue Flag also requires other possibly harmful contaminants, such as Intestinal enterococci, to be monitored – something that is not currently looked at by the region’s program.

Councillor Amy England, the original mover of the motion to look into a Blue Flag designation, says council missed an opportunity.

“I don’t understand why we wouldn’t pay $500 to get an up to date report on how to make our waterfront better and improve our water quality,” England said.

Commissioner Sharma said that the city is already aware of the water quality issues as a feasibility study was conducted in 2010 when the possibility of a Blue Flag designation first came up with council.

It was also noted that along with the initial $500 fee, an annual accreditation process for the Blue Flag program comes with a $1,250 price tag.

Currently, only 25 beaches in Canada have a Blue Flag designation, eight of which are in Toronto.