Recreational water quality and health: Overview
Learn about what recreational bodies of water are, who's responsible for them, and the different types of activities.
On this page
- Recreational water areas
- Recreational water activities
- Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality
- Contact us
Recreational water areas
Recreational water areas are any natural fresh, marine or estuarine (somewhat salty) bodies of water used for recreational purposes, such as:
- human-made systems, for example:
- artificial lakes
- stormwater ponds
They do not include swimming pools, splash parks or other similar facilities.
Recreational water activities
There are 2 types of recreational water activities: primary contact activities and secondary contact activities.
Primary contact activities have a greater risk of people swallowing water. These are activities where you may get your whole body wet, including your head, such as:
Secondary contact activities have a lower risk of people swallowing water. They include:
Depending on the water quality, some recreational water areas may only be suitable for secondary contact activities.
Health Canada develops guidelines for Canadian recreational water quality in partnership with:
- other federal departments
- recommend what to test for in the water
- include what levels are acceptable in water
- provide guidance on monitoring and management strategies
Provincial and territorial governments can use these guidelines to develop their own recommendations.
The federal government also manages recreational water areas on federal lands, such as national parks.
Provincial and territorial governments set the requirements for managed recreational areas in their jurisdictions. These include:
- water quality standards
- responding to adverse events
Municipalities oversee the day-to-day operations of managed recreational water areas. This includes:
- water quality sampling
- communicating results
- issuing swimming advisories
Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality
- Cyanobacteria and their Toxins
- Physical, Aesthetic and Chemical Characteristics
- Understanding and managing risks in recreational waters
- Indicators of fecal contamination
- Microbiological pathogens and biological hazards
- Microbiological sampling and analysis
- Summary document
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