When the Okanagan has reached temperatures well above 30 C for most of the past two weeks, you might want to head to Okanagan Lake for a dip or maybe some stand up paddle-boarding or kayaking, or maybe you have already.
But when at least one local government warns that floodwaters are “dangerous, disgusting, and filthy dirty” and filled with hidden hazards, does that mean all beaches and all flood waters? You might expect local governments and Interior Health, which are responsible for monitoring beach water quality, to help you understand that but so far that's not the case.
Despite the hot temperatures over the past two weeks, no one is testing the waters. According to Interior Health, that's only done during 'swimming-season' which doesn't start for at least two more weeks, says Jennifer Jacobsen, spokesperson for environmental health.
“Local governments have primary responsibility for testing potential contaminants around beaches,” she said in an emailed response to questions. Interior Health works with municipalities to assess those samples, but it doesn't appear any testing has been done.
“Given recent warm weather and flooding activity, (Interior Health) has made beach sampling available to local governments that wish to start sampling before mid-June.”
So can anyone knowledgeably say if there is sewage overflow or other contaminants, or simply say if it's safe to be in the water?
“While there is heightened attention and monitoring of water due to the current situation, the public should be aware there is always a risk when it comes to potential contaminants in recreational water. Generally, if contaminants are present they would be concentrated in standing flood water, but typically dissipate in a large body of water like a lake,” Jacobsen said. “The public is encouraged not to swim in areas near septic systems which may have been compromised. People who are concerned about potential health risks associated with recreational water are encouraged to contact their local government for information on sampling."
For now, swimming in the lake, as always, should be done at your own risk, but plunging into a pool might be a better option.
— This story was significantly edited for tone and style at 2:49 p.m. June 1. Additional information in the form of a quotation from Jacobsen was added.
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