Last Thursday, an article published in Vancouver Metro revealed proposed regulatory changes to Transport Canada's Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemicals regulations that would allow small vessel operators to dump sewage waste at a distance of only one nautical mile from shore.
The summer of 2014 saw some of the worst water quality in recent memory for Vancouver's waterfront. E.coli counts in False Creek peaked at 5,404 bacteria per 100 mL of water, more than 26 times the safety limit for swimmers (200 per 100 mL) and more than 5 times the safety limit for recreational users, such as kayakers and paddleboarders (1000 per 100 mL), according to Health Canada guidelines. Ambleside, Dundarave, Sandy Cove, Eagle Harbour, Whytecliff Park, and Sunset beaches all received no-swim advisories, with many of them remaining closed to swimmers throughout the hottest summer months of July and August.
While the exact cause of these sky-rocketing bacteria counts remains unclear, what is certain is that the easing of regulations to allow for more dumping closer to shore will only exasperate the poor water quality that results in the regular and systematic beach closures that we experience each summer. As Dr. Lysyshyn explains in the article, "We do know that the boats are part of the problem. They contribute to putting feces in the water, essentially, so we don’t want anything to allow them to put more in,". Furthermore, there are already seven marina locations around False Creek and Coal Harbour where public boaters can access sewage pump-out services. With facilities available to dispose of waste safely, there's really no excuse for boaters to be dumping their sewage into Vancouver's waterways.
For many Vancouver residents, the beaches and waterfront are central to their enjoyment of an active and healthy lifestyle. Our city plays host to a huge community of recreational water users, including sailors, dragon boaters, canoeists, kayakers, wind surfers, stand-up paddle boarders, and open-water swimmers; all of whom flock to the water in the warmer months to keep fit and have fun. Recreational water users and families bringing their children to the city's beaches want to know that the water won't make them ill.
This policy change runs counter to the direction Transport Canada should be taking to protect the health and safety of Canadian citizens. Rather than making it easier for boaters to dump sewage overboard directly into our waterways, Transport Canada should be moving toward a "zero discharge" policy and making it easier for boaters to dispose of waste safely by ensuring that more pump-out facilities are made available and accessible to boaters.
We want to enjoy the water at our beaches this summer, not just look at it from shore. That's why we're encouraging folks to contact Transport Minister Lisa Raitt to tell her to reconsider these changes and to, instead, strengthen anti-dumping regulations to help keep our waterfronts clean and safe for people and wildlife alike. Also, don't forget to download our free Swim Guide app that lets you easily check the water quality of your local beaches from your smart-phone.