Is the Gorge swimming safe?

By Rob Wipond, July/August 2013

The data is being processed.

Last year we threw cold water on the Gorge Swimfest by reporting that only fecal bacteria safety levels were being tested. What about the industrial pollutants in the sediment, or flowing in through sewer outfalls? We discovered that no one was testing if those toxins were getting into swimming areas.

However, the Capital Regional District and Vancouver Island Health Authority have begun collaborating on broader testing.

“We have done more extensive and comprehensive water quality testing both in the fall of 2011 and the summer of 2012,” says the CRD’s Supervisor of Stormwater, Harbours and Watersheds Program, Dale Green.

The CRD isn’t examining the sediment, but has begun testing the main Gorge waterway during dry and wet seasons for heavy metals and other chemical contaminants, as well as for water quality parameters such as nitrogen and phosphorous levels. “We’re just trying to get a handle on what the water quality is in the harbours,” says Green. “We’re looking at the system as a whole, to just understand if and where contamination is in the water.”

A CRD report is due out next year. “We’re currently processing all that data,” says Green. “But it’s been given to VIHA for their review.” 

VIHA’s supervisor of environmental health officers, Erwin Dyck, has not completed his review but, he says, “If areas or chemicals of concern are identified, then we can certainly get more information related to just what the risks of those chemicals might be.”

Unfortunately, there are no guidelines in Canada establishing the levels of chemical contaminants that are safe for swimming. “We have our medical health officer and others that we can use to bounce the information off of, to see whether there’s anything that needs to be done to alert the public,” says Dyck.

Rob Wipond won this year’s Western Magazine Award in Science, Technology and Medicine for his Focus article “The Case for Electoshocking Mia” (Nov 2012).