The next time you're wondering whether or not a lake is safe enough to swim in, look for the Blue Flag flapping in the wind.
According to their website, the Blue Flag is a voluntary eco-label awarded to over 3650 beaches and marinas in 44 countries across the world, including Canada.
The program is owned and run by the non-government, non-profit organization the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).
“They feel it (Blue Flag program) adheres to a very high standard in environmental management, environmental education and information,” explains Aiden Grove-White, Environmental Defence. “The safety and services that are provided on the beach, along with suburb water quality, are some of the best in the region,” he adds.
Up until the turn of the millennium, Lake Ontario has historically been polluted. But Grove-White confidently asserts this is quickly changing.
“Cities like Toronto (and later on Hamilton) have done good work at reducing what is called combined sewer overflows into the lake -- which what was polluting them so badly.”
It's not just urban water flows that are susceptible to contamination. Lakes in rural areas can also be affected by toxins.
For example, says Grove-White, negative influences from agricultural run-off can often occur.
This is precisely what's happening with some of the beaches along the south east shore of Lake Huron.
When a strong storm hits, run-off from local farmer's fields coupled with improperly installed septic systems wash into the water system, polluting it in the process.
This is where urban centres have an advantage in the clean-up process. “Larger cities can actually fix some of the problems they're having with water quality -- by doing infrastructure upgrades.”
White-Grove believes the Blue Flag program is both inspirational and educational because it gives people the encouragement to fall in love with their local beach.
“We want people to make it the best healthiest possible part of the shoreline they can,” he says. “Then, slowly but surely, turn around the entire Great Lakes basin.”
|Municipality of Bluewater||Bayfield Main Beach, Ontario|
|Toronto||Bluffers Park Beach, Ontario|
|Toronto||Centre Island Beach, Ontario|
|Toronto||Cherry Beach, Ontario|
|City of Toronto||Gibraltar Point Beach, Ontario|
|Municipality of Lambton Shores||Grand Bend Beach, Ontario|
|Toronto||Hanlan's Point, Ontario|
|Toronto||Kew-Balmy Beach, Ontario|
|Town of the Blue Mountains||Little River Beach Park, Ontario|
|Town of the Blue Mountains||Northwinds Beach Park, Ontario|
|Central Elgin||Port Stanley, Ontario|
|Town of South Bruce Peninsula||Sauble Beach, Ontario|
|Kincardine||Station Beach, Ontario||Toronto||Ward's Island, Ontario|
|Town of Wasaga||Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, Ontario|
|Toronto||Woodbine Beaches, Ontario|
With files from Andrea Stockton