Page 6: Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality – Third Edition

Part I: Management of Recreational Waters

The division of duties pertaining to the safe management of recreational waters will differ depending on the provincial or territorial policies in place. The authority overseeing the day-to-day operations of the recreational water area generally possesses the most comprehensive knowledge of the area and is therefore in the best position to take the actions necessary to ensure the safe operation of the facilities. The management information in this section is more pertinent to managed beaches (either public or private); however the same principles can be applied to any natural recreational water area.

Effective recreational water management requires the cooperation of all of its stakeholders, including beach operators and service providers, governments, local businesses and industry, as well as users. All stakeholders are expected to become informed about their roles and responsibilities in the safe management of recreational waters.

A preventive multi-barrier approach to management that focuses on the identification and control of water quality hazards and their associated risks before the point of contact with the recreational water user represents the best strategy for the protection of public health from risks associated with recreational waters. Reactive management strategies relying on compliance monitoring alone will not be sufficient in protecting the health of the recreational water user.

1.0 The multi-barrier approach

The multi-barrier approach is an integrated system of procedures, actions and tools that collectively reduce the risk of human exposure to recreational water quality hazards. The concept is analogous to the "source to tap" approach used for the management of safe drinking water supplies in Canada (CCME, 2004).

This approach to recreational water management has been recognized by water quality professionals worldwide. The concepts of preventive risk management and the use of multiple barriers were at the heart of the recommendations for improved management of recreational waters proposed by an international panel of experts following a meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1999 sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). A report on the outcome of this meeting was later published in the document that has come to be known as the "Annapolis Protocol" (WHO, 1999). Similarly, it is this approach that formed the basis for the management framework outlined in the Guidelines for Safe Recreational Water Environments (WHO, 2003a).

The multi-barrier approach achieves success by having numerous barriers in place across all identified areas of management (e.g. source protection, monitoring, hazard control, communication, consultation), rather than focusing all efforts on a single barrier.

Specific benefits include:

  • more effective public health protection;
  • improved recreational water management (operational plans can be specifically tailored to address an area's individual needs and resources);
  • improved public communication (leading to better public understanding of key concepts and the public's role in ensuring recreational water safety); and
  • better management of emergencies (potential water quality hazards are understood and plans are in place to address the problems effectively).

The following sections provide additional information on the different elements of the multi-barrier strategy, including situation assessment (Environmental Health and Safety Surveys) and application/implementation of barriers (Compliance Monitoring, Public Awareness and Communication, Public Health Advice, Hazard Control Actions).

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