The City of Port Alberni put a larger sign up at Canal Waterfront Park advising people not to swim at the beach after Island Health issued an advisory. The signs were to come down around the B.C. Day weekend. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Swim advisory lifted at Canal Beach in Port Alberni

New area of concern crops up along Somass River

A health advisory has been lifted for the beach at Canal Waterfront Park in Port Alberni, but another water source on the Somass River has had a high bacterial reading.

Island Health issued an advisory on July 9 and closed Canal Waterfront Park, also known as Canal Beach, to swimming after high bacterial counts were recorded. On two separate tests, Canal Beach recorded 950 and 450 parts per 100 millilitres of enterococci—far higher than Island Health’s acceptable level of 70.

Enterococcus (plural is enterococci) is a bacteria usually found in feces. Related to streptococcus, it can cause inflammation and blood infection. Enterococci is found in salt water and is the same as E. coli, which is found in fresh water.

READ: Port Alberni beach closed due to high bacterial count

While Island Health still had an advisory listed for Canal Beach as of Aug. 2, Port Alberni city manager Tim Pley said the city had received correspondence from the health authority lifting the advisory. Pley said the city would be removing the ‘no swimming’ signs at Canal Beach as soon as possible.

The city had recorded acceptable numbers over five readings, in two separate locations on Canal Beach.

Warning signs were also posted at Polly’s Point, around the corner from Canal Waterfront Park. The First Nations Health Authority posted signs on July 24 in response to Island Health’s closure of Canal Beach. Water tests conducted on July 24 at Polly’s Point showed the water was clean: there was less than one particle per 100 millilitres of bacteria in the tests.

Other tests conducted at Clutesi Haven Marina (4 E. coli CFU/ 100 mL), Kitsuksis Creek (14) and Rogers Creek (8) were all within acceptable levels, as was Paper Mill Dam on the Tseshaht First Nation side, Pley said.

The problem area was Victoria Quay, which showed a skyhigh reading of 71,000 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 mL of E coli.

READ: City to spend $50K more cleaning up Canal Beach

READ: City builds picnic shelter at Canal Waterfront Park

The city inspected its storm and sewer infrastructure in the area on July 31 looking for any breaks. This included visual inspections of forcemains under pressure as well as stormwater discharge points at Victoria Quay.

“We’ve found no city sources to Canal Beach or Victoria Quay at this point,” Pley said. More tests will be conducted at both areas, he added.

A water test conducted July 3 at the city’s sewage lagoon outfall shows a reading of 6.0, which is well within Island Health’s standards. “That’s consistent for what we generally find at the outfall.”

Pley said there are a couple of other scenarios that could have caused the abnormally high counts off Victoria Quay. If a boat dumped something in the river on its way into or out of Clutesi Haven Marina, that could have affected the readings.

Also, if someone inland dumped something into a storm drain, those are catchment areas for water only and they drain straight into the Somass River without filtering.

“Was it a boat that was dumping (hold water) right there or did somebody dump an RV into a storm drain, which goes straight to the river? We’ll probably never know.”

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