Behind each Blue Flag flying at a Canadian beach or marina, there’s a story. For Bluffer’s Park Beach in Toronto, it’s a story about transformation. With some attention from the TRCA and the City of Toronto, water quality at Bluffer’s Park Beach went from being practically unswimmable to some of the best around!

The Scarborough Bluffs are a spectacular sight! They are a beautiful escarpment running along the east section of Toronto’s beaches on the shores of Lake Ontario. Standing at 91 meters in height, the bluffs have been shaped by wind and wave erosion, runoff, and the freeze/thaw cycle. The park offers a secluded beach, marina, and walking trails.

Despite having so much natural beauty, Bluffer’s Park Beach historically suffered from poor water quality, keeping many swimmers out of the water.  In an effort to better understand the source of contamination, in 2010 the City of Toronto partnered with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) to undertake a microbial source tracking project. The analysis found that deer, goose and gull droppings were creating high E.coli concentrations, impacting water quality.

To solve the problem, the city and TRCA created a dune and wetland system to divert runoff that had previously been flowing directly into Lake Ontario. This system naturally pools and filters the runoff before the water is released back into the lake. These efforts vastly improved water quality results at Bluffer’s Park Beach. In 2005, the beach only met provincial water quality standards 21 per cent of the swimming season. Since investing in the creation of dunes and wetlands, the beach has met water quality standards 97 per cent of the time!

The water quality at Bluffer’s Park Beach now fits with its beautiful natural features. Since 2011, Bluffer’s Park Beach has maintained its Blue Flag status, letting visitors know that it is a clean and swimmable beach!

Why is water quality so important?

Blue Flag requires beaches meet strict water quality standards, ensuring the health and safety of swimmers young and old. Swimming in water with poor water quality can cause a host of digestive and skin issues. High levels of E.coli bacteria (from the feces of warm-blooded animals) are some of the biggest culprits for swimming related illnesses. Blue Flag beaches must follow provincial water quality standards for E.coli concentrations at swimming beaches. In Ontario, for a beach to remain open, E.coli must be below 100 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 mililitres of water.. The province has the country’s strictest water quality standards, with the general standard across Canada being 200 CFU per 100 mililitres of water.

The story of Bluffer’s Park Beach shows how environmental issues as complex as water quality can be resolved with some scientific sleuthing and a commitment from the community to implementing a solution. Do you know a beach that is a diamond in the rough? Maybe it could be a Blue Flag beach someday.