Test the waters: Learning about the Westboro Beach bacteria levels
By Charlie Senack
POSTED ON AUGUST 5, 2020
For over 100 years, Westboro Beach has been a popular swimming hole in the Kitchissippi neighbourhood.
According to Friends of Westboro Beach, the area was first recognized as a site for swimming in 1910 when the “Clarella subdivision plan” designated three parcels of land for public swimming. But it wasn’t until 1926 when the Westboro Board of Trade supported swimming on the site, despite being privately owned at the time.
If you have visited Westboro Beach recently, you may have noticed a red flag flying multiple times this summer advising beach goers to stay out of the water due to high bacteria levels. Ottawa Public Health said there is no need to worry, but everyone should take precautions when going for a swim.
“Westboro Beach is one of the city beaches that commonly has no swimming advisories, about one third of the time,” said Martha Robinson, program development officer at Ottawa Public Health, who is coordinating the beach sampling program this year.
“It’s subject to both dry weather, high bacteria counts and wet weather,” she added.
Robinson said Westboro Beach is unique in terms of its geographical location, and they believe that’s part of the reason why bacteria levels are often high at the beach.
If you look upstream, she said, there is no sewage treatment plant or combined sewer overflows — two things which would possibly help keep bacteria levels low.
“I would say the most likely source of bacteria levels at the beach really comes down to two things,” said Robinson. “One would be the local bird population….In my experience, the ducks there are very tame because people feed them and you can often see them outside of the swimming area with their babies at this time of the year. Birds create many kids of bacteria when they poop just like humans do.”
Robinson said the second source for high bacteria levels is the location of the beach. Wind often comes over the Ottawa River, bringing warm water up to the surface which washes onto shore.
“We find often that when the wind is coming towards the beach with a bit of wave action, it’s probably washing up water that contains higher levels of bacteria just because it’s not being sent down the river and off to another location,” she said. “It’s just being pushed onto the beach.”
No-swim advisories are commonly issued when bacteria levels exceed provincial guidelines for swimming, which is more than 200 E. coli per 100 ml of water when averaged across five samples.
As an example, Ottawa Public Health reported E. coli levels at 238 per 200 ml of water at Westboro Beach on July 7.
Ducks and geese take a dip in the water at Westboro Beach on July 28, 2020. Photo by Maureen McEwan.
Robinson said measures have been taken in the past to try and lower bacteria levels in the water. She noted both Britannia and Mooney’s Bay Beaches have overhead netting which keeps birds like seagulls away from the water and beach area. Experts looked to see if a similar measure could be implemented at Westboro Beach but it proved to be challenging due to its unique shape and location.
“A few years ago, the city contracted out an assessment engineering firm for Westboro Beach to see if there were any solutions they could suggest and there was no conclusion that I remember,” Robinson said. “What we found was that one of the deepest points in the Ottawa River was right off the shore of Westboro Beach, so they worked out things like having a curtain to protect the swimming area.”
Robinson said people should listen to the no swim advisories when they are posted because it’s a matter of keeping everyone safe.
“The risks would be if you had an open wound, it could get infected,” she said. “If you put your head under the water, you could get an ear infection, eye infection or skin infection. If you swallow the water, you could get a gastrointestinal infection.”
Robinson urged people to pick up their garbage and to go to the washroom before entering the water, something which is even more important when you have children. She added that it’s important to change baby diapers away from the beach in a changing room or washroom.
She also credited the Kitchissippi community members for looking after the beach through a variety of initiatives.
“Our rivers are important to us and they are great advocates for keeping the rivers clean through the Ottawa River Keeper,” said Robinson. “Westboro Beach has always had a very active community that has done shoreline cleanup and made sure that the beach is a central part of their community. I admire the work that the community does to ensure their swimming is available at Westboro Beach.”
Westboro Beach Lands Concept Plan
Update: September 12, 2020
As we did this spring and summer, we are approaching fall with an abundance of caution, with not much activity and consequently not much of an update, but much food for thought.
Please note that dates mentioned in this update have shifted from the previous update of January 2020. There is a high probability that dates will shift yet again.
Pollinator Friendly Garden on the Selby Plain
Coordinator Nancy Mooney, generous donation of native plants from the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, and the diligence and hard work by Dave Adams, the Selby Plain is being transformed. Dave has managed to keep the plants alive during the record heat and minimal rain days in July by watering it every day, and the Selby Plain has no running water!
If you have not yet managed to see the fledging garden, enjoy the photos of some of the plantings.
Bob Grainger and Mari Wellman, and a second go-around with Susan Fisher, NCC Landscape Architect, did an on-site mapping of the Main Building of Skead’s Mill. The obvious “rock platform” used by many to enjoy the beauty of the river and the sunsets forms a corner, and in the bushes and prickly thicket some remnants of the foundation were found.
The plan is to mark the four corners of the Main Building, with pictures and explanation. A picture that could be considered for display is the fire-insurance diagram depicted in Bob Grainger’s “Early Days in Westboro Beach”, along with some remains pictured below.
The archaeological dig and investigation, as stipulated in The Protocol for the Co-management of Archaeological Resources (2017) between the NCC, the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, was to occur in the fall of 2020. A big thank you to the dozen or so who have volunteered to help with the dig.
There is the possibility for a big disappointment. The initial assay indicated some contamination. More testing will be done. If it proves to be too contaminated professionals will conduct the dig, and volunteers will not be able to help. It is hoped that that will not be the case.
A budget of $8M has been identified for the design and implementation of the project with $6M for the buildings and $2M for the landscaping of the beach area and Atlantis Woods.
When a detailed costing of the preliminary concept of the pavilion was done, it was far more than $6M. The elimination of some of the proposed amenities is still being done to pare down the cost. It will be a smaller building than was originally proposed. The NCC is still committed to a public consultation on the design of the pavilion, as well as the landscaping, a challenge during the current covid-19 pandemic.
There will be many that will be disappointed if the museum and or wall space showcasing the history of Westboro Beach is eliminated. Its history is interesting, and relevant to know our past. Applying for a grant, or seeking help from the Federal Government could be considered.
The footprint of the pavilion will be smaller than depicted in the pictured preliminary site plan. The beach and the grassy hill will not be touched. The anticipated date for the construction of the pavilion and surrounding landscape is 2022.
The Atlantis parking lot is anticipated to start this fall. As requested by Atlantis Avenue residents, the footpath from the parking lot to Atlantis Avenue will be eliminated and replaced with trees and shrubs.
The bat houses, three bat boxes donated by Nature Canada pictured on the left, can be incorporated into the design of Atlantis Woods. It is recommended that bat houses be a minimum of 10 feet off the ground, or better yet between 12 – 20 feet off the ground.
Coordinator Karen Genge has offered to do the required annual maintenance, but will not be able, or rather not willing to climb up a ladder of 10 feet! A couple of mechanisms were suggested that could possibly help lower the bat houses but the NCC will require technical drawings and the redesign was not budgeted.
Beach Tunnel Mural
Many have noticed the rust from the railings and the crumbling concrete. The NCC will repair them, parts of the mural will be repaired. It will be patched and primed for later painting.
A new mural will have to be created. Kitchissippi Councillor, Jeff Leiper has kindly offered help which will cover the cost of the paints and paintbrushes. A heartfelt thank you to Jeff for his generous offer.
It is anticipated that the concrete repair will be completed in the fall of 2021, but in these uncertain times the date, as are all the dates in this update are uncertain.
Meanwhile, what to do with the ever-increasing graffiti on the mural. They can be painted over but the WBCA finances are low, or we can ride it out until the concrete repair is completed, or perhaps only the obvious tags can be painted over. One or two cans of coloured paint will not break the bank.
Beach and Shoreline Clean-up
Also, a heartfelt thank you to the volunteers who help with keeping the beach and shoreline clear of garbage. It will continue until the end of September, then one last cleanup the last week of October. The last clean up is to ensure that no non-compostable will drift into the river during the spring melt.
Volunteers have reported an unusual amount of garbage this summer, lots of plastics and cans, broken glass bottles and cigarette butts – none are compostable. There were a few campfire pits and remains. A more detailed report will be prepared after the cleanup for the year is completed.
We want to maintain the beauty and ecological integrity of the river and shoreline. The littering must stop and people will have to be sensitive to garbage.
Water Quality, Aquatic and Shoreline Restoration
Following the article in the Kitchissippi Times, attached, “Test the waters: Learning about the Westboro Beach bacteria levels”, a discussion was held with Martha Robinson, Ottawa Public Health, who is overseeing the beach sampling this year.
Several years ago, the Baird Report suggested several measures to mitigate the bacteria levels at Westboro Beach. Some were shown to be impractical, or ineffective, and all were too costly to implement.
A cheap(er) alternative could employ freshwater mussels perhaps upstream from the beach. They are widespread in the Ottawa River. They are filter feeders so that in large numbers they literally clean up the water. A concept that will be explored further.
Beach and Beach Lands Committee
Beach tunnel mural: Carrie Johnson
“Poet’s walk”: Meredith Rodger
Summer and winter pathway, Selby to IPD: Peter Edmison
Pollinator friendly garden, Selby Plains: Nancy Mooney
Bat houses: Karen Genge
History: Bob Grainger and Tony Michel
Co-chair: Elliot Rodger
Co-chair: Mari Wellman