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Water Stewardship Division

Manitoba Beaches

Each summer, thousands of bathers enjoy the many beautiful beaches across Manitoba. From Lake Winnipeg to the Whiteshell Provincial Park and across the province from Dauphin to Killarney, the lakes of Manitoba offer something for everyone. While water quality at the beaches across Manitoba is excellent and safe for swimming, the following information on Escherichia coli and the Manitoba Clean Beaches Program, swimmer's itch, and algae blooms can help protect our beaches and reduce health risks to you and your family.

Gmili Beach

Manitoba Clean Beaches Program

Escherichia coli or E. coli is a bacteria found in large numbers in all warm-blooded animals including humans, livestock, wildlife, and birds. Escherichia coli itself does not generally cause illness, but when it is present in large numbers, the risk of becoming ill from other organisms is elevated. The most common illnesses contracted by bathers are infections of the eyes, ears, nose, and throat as well as stomach upsets. Typical symptoms include mild fever, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.

Extensive studies were undertaken by Water Stewardship Division in 2003 to determine the source of occasionally high E. coli counts and the mechanism of transfer to Lake Winnipeg beaches. Studies have shown that large numbers of E. coli are present in the wet sand of beaches. During some periods of high winds when water levels are rising in the south basin, these bacteria can be washed out of the sand and into the swimming area of the lake. Research has shown that less than 10 percent of the E. coli at Lake Winnipeg beaches is from human sources, with the remaining numbers being from birds and animals. Study results significantly enhance the present understanding of water quality in Lake Winnipeg and are available in an interim report.

Water Stewardship Division, in conjunction with Manitoba Health, has developed the Manitoba Clean Beaches Program to provide valuable information to you and your family on how to protect our beautiful beaches and reduce health risks.

Protect the Beach

The following beach hygiene tips will help keep our beaches clean:

  • Please don't feed the shore birds. Gulls can quickly become accustomed to eating and residing on the beach.
  • Don't litter or discard food on the beach. Dispose of trash in proper receptacles.
  • Clean up after your pets. Pets are not allowed on provincial park beaches and on most beaches in rural municipalities.
  • Change diapered children frequently and away from the water's edge.
  • Never bury waste in the sand.

Protect Yourself and Other Bathers

The following personal hygiene tips are recommended:

  • Wash your hands before handling food. The simple action of washing your hands before touching food will reduce your risk of ingesting harmful organisms that may be on the beach.
  • Avoid swallowing lake water when playing or swimming.
  • Stay away from the water if you are experiencing digestive or intestinal problems.

The Manitoba Clean Beaches Program includes the following components

  • Information brochures on how bathers can protect the beach and themselves.
  • Information signage that will be placed at the major beaches in Manitoba.
  • Continued focused research to identify animal sources of E. coli contributed to Lake Winnipeg and to develop a model to predict when E. coli counts might be elevated.
  • Increased monitoring of Manitoba's beaches and continued reporting of results.

What are the most recent E. coli counts at my beach?

Advisory Signs

Swimmers at beaches on Lake Winnipeg should also watch for signs advising that high bacteria counts have been observed this season.  High bacteria counts usually last for short periods of time.  Although most swimmers are not expected to become ill, the possibility of illness increases with higher levels of bacteria.  To reduce your risk of illness, the following precautions are recommended: 

  • Avoid swallowing lake water.
  • Wash your hands before handling food.
  • Avoid swimming with an open cut or wound, or if you are experiencing illness.
  • Minimize water contact if lake levels are high and strong winds are blowing from the north.

For further information please contact Health Links - Info Sant at 788-8200 or toll-free at 1-888-315-9257.

Advisory Signs are Posted at the Following Lake Winnipeg Beaches

 Beaches Advisory Sign
Falcon Lake
Matlock Beach

Bathing Yes, Drinking No

While water quality is excellent at Manitoba beaches for bathing, most jurisdictions (including Manitoba) routinely recommend that untreated surface water should not be used for drinking purposes. A minimum treatment of at least disinfection is required. The guideline for recreation was developed with the recognition that a small amount of water may be accidentally ingested by bathers. However, regular consumption of larger amounts of untreated water may pose additional and unacceptable health risks.

Information Bulletin on "Protection of Water Quality at Manitoba Beaches" and "Recreational Water Quality Guidelines".

A day at the beach

Swimmer's Itch

The swimmer's itch parasite is naturally found in many Manitoba lakes. It causes a temporary skin irritation or rash in swimmers who come in contact with the parasite. As water droplets evaporate from the skin, the tiny parasitic larvae enters a swimmer's pores and dies, leaving an itchy elevated red spot that may last from four to fourteen days. The allergic reaction to swimmer's itch can be extremely annoying but it is not dangerous and will not spread. However, scratching the itch could cause infection.

The first signs of swimmer's itch are noticeable soon after you get out of the water. Once dry, you will detect tingling sensations on exposed parts of your body. The next sign is the development of small red spots where the organism has penetrated through your skin. Hours later, the tingling sensation will cease and the red spots will enlarge and become itchy. The degree of discomfort varies with the individual, the severity of the infestation, and prior exposure. If these symptoms develop, anti-itch medications, such as lotions and some antihistamines, will help relieve them. Your family physician or pharmacist can recommend the best treatment.  Brochures that provide information on swimmers itch are also available.

Has swimmer's itch been detected at my beach?

Algae Blooms

Algae occur naturally in all surface waters. Large algal blooms are common in many of Manitoba's lakes, rivers, and streams. Nitrogen and phosphorus-found in sewage, greywater, animal feces, fertilizers, or silt from land erosion-can lead to excessive algae growth. Heat, a lack of wind, and plenty of sun create optimum conditions for the growth of algae. Clear water transmits more light and can support more algae when available nutrients are present.

Extensive blooms of algae can cause a number of problems at beaches:

  • Reduced recreational appeal - water with a large algal bloom looks murky and smells foul, making it undesirable for swimming, wading, and water-skiing.
  • Toxic algae - Some species of blue-green algae produce liver and nerve toxins which can cause illness or death in livestock or pets drinking the water. People have reported incidents of skin irritation from swimming in waters with toxic algae. In addition, drinking water containing toxic algae can cause gastroenteritis, or stomach upset and diarrhea. More serious long-term health effects may result from long-term exposure through drinking water. If large amounts of green scum are visible in the water it is advisable to avoid swimming or other contact with the water.

Prevention is the preferred method for control of algae in surface waters. The most effective long-term control is to minimize the quantity of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the water.

For more information on the water quality at Manitoba's beaches, please contact:

Water Quality Management Section
Water Stewardship Division,
Water Science and Management Branch
123 Main Street, Suite 160
Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3C 1A5
Telephone: 1-204-945-7100
Fax: 1-204-948-2357
Toll Free: 1-800-282-8069 (ext. 7100)