Our Swimmable City

Our city's nine swimmable beaches and 18 km of beautiful, public waterfront access are a big part of what makes Vancouver one of the most livable cities in the world. It's also why a huge community of recreational water users, including sailors, dragon boaters, canoeists, kayakers, wind surfers, stand-up paddle boarders, and open-water swimmers; call Vancouver home. 

With so many flocking to the water in the warmer months to cool off, keep fit, and have fun; our beaches and waterfront are as much a part of our city's cultural identity as they are central to our enjoyment of an active and healthy lifestyle.

Troubled Waters

But, while the water at our beaches certainly looks beautiful, Vancouver’s waterfront has some of the poorest water quality in all of coastal British Columbia.

The summer of 2014 saw some of the worst water quality in recent memory, with E.coli counts in False Creek peaking at 5,404 bacteria per 100 mL of water, more than 26 times the Health Canada guideline for swimmers (200 per 100 mL) and more than 5 times the limit for recreational users, such as kayakers and paddleboarders (1000 per 100 mL). Ambleside, Dundarave, Sandy Cove, Eagle Harbour, Whytecliff Park, and Sunset beaches all received no-swim advisories, with many remaining closed to swimmers throughout the hottest summer months of July and August.

What Are E. coli Bacteria?

E. coli refers to a group of coliform bacteria that are commonly found in the intestines of humans and animals, and unusually high quantities of these bacteria in water samples is indicative of sewage contamination.

Why Is Metro Vancouver Water Quality So Bad?

There are a variety of possible sources for this type of contamination in Vancouver’s waterways. Metro Vancouver discharges roughly 30 billion litres of waste water into the Fraser River and the Georgia Strait each year through its antiquated combined sewage outfall (CSO) system.

Most local boaters abide by Transport Canada regulations requiring the use of pump-out stations, but there are certainly a few who break the rules and dump their sewage too close to shore.

Other potential sources of contamination include dog and goose feces washing into the water from land, and construction work in the city harbour stirring up contaminants trapped in sediments on the bottom.

Take all of these together with the heat of the summer sun, and you have the perfect conditions for E. coli to reproduce in vast numbers and create a serious health hazard for Vancouver’s water users.

Take Action on Metro Vancouver Water Quality

With an estimated 100,000 Canadians getting sick each year from swimming in polluted water, it’s vital that people and families be aware if the water at their favourite beach is safe to swim and splash in. That’s why we encourage everyone to download the Swim Guide smartphone app. It’s totally free and provides users with up-to-date water quality information from local health authorities, so you always know if it’s safe to go in the water.

Fraser Riverkeeper is also very proud to be working with the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation in raising awareness of this important issue and fighting for safe, swimmable water.

Are You A Recreational Water User?

If you're one of BC's recreational water users, we want to hear from you! Click here to take a quick survey and tell us where and how you like to play on the water in BC. The information you provide will help us in our work to protect swimmable, drinkable, fishable water throughout our province.