Nothing says summer like long days spent at the beach – sunbathing, building sandcastles, and walking along the boardwalk are the perfect way to relax and reconnect with nature. There are thousands of beaches across the country to choose from but how do you know if a beach’s water is clean and safe for splashing around and swimming?


The Blue Flag: A sign of excellent water quality at a beach

The Blue Flag can help! It’s a great tool for choosing where to spend your next day at the beach. Blue Flag is a world-renowned eco-certification for beaches and marinas that have met a set of strict international criteria under four categories: Environmental Education, Environmental Management, Water Quality, and Safety & Services.

Currently, 26 beaches in Canada are flying the Blue Flag, meaning that their water quality is the best of the best. Blue Flag beaches must meet provincial water quality standards 80 per cent of the swimming season in order to get the flag.

With Blue Flag, you don’t have to wonder if there are bacteria, such as E. coli, in the water. E. coli is a short way of saying Escherichia coli. It is a common bacterium that lives in human and animal intestines. Typically, it doesn’t cause you harm, but if you get it in your mouth, it can make you sick. There are a few different ways that E. coli can end up in the water at a beach:

  • Elevated levels of coli may occur after a heavy rainfall, because fecal material from birds, pets and wildlife is washed into the lake.
  • Shorebirds can foul the water – so remember don’t feed the birds!
  • Faulty or overworked septic systems, agricultural runoff and sewage treatment plant bypasses can release fecal matter into the water.

Blue Flag Blog1In Canada, the Blue Flag standard for E. coli is a maximum of 200cfu (colony forming units) per 100mL of water. This standard is based on the Canadian Recreational Water Quality Guidelines, which are some of the strictest in the world. Water samples are taken weekly at multiple sites along the beach including areas with the highest concentration of bathers. The samples are analyzed and results are posted at the beach and online at to make it easy for you to find the most recent water quality information.

So, when planning your next beach-trip, be sure to visit to help you find a beach that has great water quality for swimming. Check out the list of Blue Flag beaches in Canada to find one closest to you!