Environmental Health Officers assess and inspect public/commercial swimming pools and hot tubs for compliance with health standards and for the health and safety of you and your family. Environmental Health Officers also work with local governments and agencies providing oversight of beaches to monitor water quality at popular public beaches.
Each summer, Environmental Health Officers review water quality results from samples taken at popular beach areas. Beach advisories are posted where monitoring has shown swimming is not recommended due to poor water quality.
Beginning this season (2019), Island Health is working with local governments and agencies providing oversight of beaches to review existing beach sampling frequencies and transition sampling responsibilities. Island Health will continue to cover analysis costs and courier fees from our offices to the laboratory, and to post results on the Island Health website for sampled beaches. Island Health will assist with determining an appropriate course of action where results do not meet health standards. Upon request, Island Health will also provide support/training to those who agree to take on sampling responsibilities.
Beach Advisory - Indicates the water may be unsafe for swimming
Beach sampling for the 2019 is now underway
For water sampling results and explanations of the results see the PDF links below.
Recreational Water Info
- Hot Tubs: Health and Safety Tips
- Hot Tubs: Safe Water Quality
- Safety Tips for Swimmers
- Sun-smart your kids
- Swimmer’s Itch
- Health Canada – Recreational Water
Frequently Asked Questions
Why monitor beaches?
Beaches are monitored to protect swimmers from illnesses that may be linked to unacceptable levels of bacteria. Swimming in contaminated water can result in increased risk of ear, nose and throat infections or gastrointestinal illnesses.
How are beaches chosen for sampling?
Environmental Health Officers select beaches where use levels may warrant regular sampling and apply a standardized risk assessment tool to determine whether sampling should be recommended and to set the recommended frequency.
How often are beaches sampled?
Each beach is assessed by an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) based on usage, previous sample results and potential sources of contamination. Once beaches have been assessed, a recommended sampling frequency is made based on the following:
HIGH – Sampled weekly
MODERATE – Sampled every two weeks
LOW – Sampled monthly
VERY LOW – Not sampled unless EHO believes it is necessary to do so
Beach sampling generally begins in mid-May, so that results are available in advance of May Long weekend, and runs through until Labour Day.
What DO WE TEST FOR?
We test for indicator bacteria. Indicator bacteria are used to identify the presence of fecal contamination and provide an indication of the potential risk associated with swimming in that location. The indicator bacteria used depends on the type of water sampled. E. coli is used at fresh water beaches and Enterococci is used at salt water beaches.
When are Advisories Posted on Beaches?
Beach advisories are recommended by Island Health when a sample result of over 1000 E. Coli or 175 Enterococci per sample is received, as studies indicate there is an elevated risk associated with these bacterial levels. A beach advisory will also be considered when:
- the average of the past several sample results (also called a “geometric mean”) exceeds 200 E. coli or 35 Enterococci
- a single sample result exceeds 400 E. coli or 70 Enterococci per sample
- other public health hazards are identified
To recommend a beach advisory, our Environmental Health Officers will contact the local governments or agency providing oversight of the beach so that a warning sign can be posted to advise the public that the water may be unsafe for swimming. Public beaches are not technically “closed” to public access when an advisory is in place.
North Island Beaches (Courtenay, Comox, Campbell River, Port Hardy)
Central Island Beaches (Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Parksville, Qualicum, Port Alberni)
Cowichan Valley Beaches (Chemainus, Duncan, Mill Bay, Shawnigan Lake, Lake Cowichan)
Greater Victoria Beaches
Constructing a Pool?
Under the BC Pool Regulation, any person constructing a pool (Public, Commercial, Hot tub, Wading, or Spray) must first apply for and receive a construction permit. To apply for a construction permit, an application accompanied by the plans and specifications, sealed and certified by an engineer or architect, must be submitted to the local health protection office.
Submission must include:
- application for Pool Construction Permit for each pool, including the Owner’s Confirmation of Commitment, Pool Information Sheet, and Health Hazard Related Design Parameter Checklist
- two complete sets of construction plans and specifications, sealed and certified by an architect or engineer
Pool Operation and Design Resources
- BC Guidelines for Swimming Pool Design
- BC Guidelines for Swimming Pool Operation
- Guidelines to Fecal and Body Fluid Accidents in Pools
- Pool Safety Plan Template Commercial Pools
- Basic Pool Safety Plan
- Template Pool Testing and Maintenance
- Guide and Pool Safety Plan
In order to open a pool to the public, an operating permit must be issued by an Environmental Health Officer. To apply for an operating permit, an Application for a Recreational Water Facility form must be completed and submitted to the local health protection office.
The Environmental Health Officer will conduct an initial inspection and, if satisfied that the operation of the pool will not likely constitute a health hazard, issue an operating permit.
Please keep in mind that a permit to operate is not transferable. If you are the new owner or operator of a pool, you must apply for a new permit and must not operate the pool until a permit has been issued to you.
Recreational Water Facility’s Inspection Reports
Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) inspect public and commercial pools, hot tubs, spray pools and wading pools (referred to collectively as ‘pools’) to assess compliance with the Public Health Act Pool Regulation. The regulation requires operators to maintain a safe and sanitary environment in and around the pool and throughout the surrounding facilities to protect public health and prevent injury.
The Hazard Rating typically represents the relative level or degree of hazard associated with a pool, as determined by an EHO after conducting an inspection. An EHO may alter the Hazard Rating based on a poor compliance history or other risk factor associated with the pool or with the operator.
In general, the Hazard Rating describes the condition of a pool at the time of inspection as follows:
No critical violations were found and there is a low probability of risk to pool patrons. The operator demonstrates an understanding of any identified or potential hazard as well as a willingness to comply fully with the legislation.
One or more critical violations or a combination of non-critical violations were observed that may put pool patrons at risk of injury or disease. The operator demonstrates an understanding of the identified hazards and shows a willingness to make any necessary improvements that will bring the facility into compliance.
The EHO observed critical violations, or a combination of critical and non-critical violations, which put pool patrons at significant risk of injury or disease. Further, the operator may not demonstrate an understanding of identified hazards, and there may or may not be a willingness to comply. The file may demonstrate a pattern of historical non-compliance, complaints or illness/injury investigations implicating the facility.
Whenever a moderate or high hazard rating is assigned, the EHO will direct the pool operator to control the associated risk to pool patrons in a timely manner. If necessary, the EHO will close the pool until it can be used safely. Long term improvements must be implemented to facilitate ongoing compliance with the legislation and with industry expectations regarding safe pool water disinfection and treatment, injury prevention and sanitation practises.