Page 7: Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality – Third Edition

Part I: Management of Recreational Waters

2.0 Environmental Health and Safety Survey

An Environmental Health and Safety Survey (EHSS) provides the foundation or "blueprint" for designing and implementing an effective risk management plan for recreational waters. It is a comprehensive search for, and assessment of, existing and potential water quality hazards (biological, chemical and physical) and their associated risks to the health and safety of the public at designated beach areas. The EHSS also represents a general review of all aspects of a beach's operation. The data collected provide beach operators, service providers and responsible authorities with the information necessary to make sound risk management decisions and to develop and maintain an effective beach monitoring program. The EHSS fits under a multi-barrier approach to recreational water management by identifying priority areas for which interventions can be applied to reduce the level of risk for recreational water users.

An EHSS should be conducted on an annual basis, just beefore the start of the swimming season. This survey should:

  • catalogue the recreational water area's basic characteristics;
  • identify any potential sources of faecal contamination;
  • identify any other potential physical, chemical or biological water quality hazards or potential sources of such that may present a risk to recreational water users; and
  • evaluate the effectiveness of the monitoring programs and risk management measures currently in place.

The authority with the best knowledge of the day-to-day operation of the beach is the likely candidate to lead this process. The EHSS process can also benefit greatly from intersectoral collaboration. Persons or groups valuable to consult on the process can include:

  • the appropriate provincial or territorial management or regulatory authority;
  • beach managers;
  • public and environmental health departments;
  • community members; and/or
  • individuals representing local business and industry.

The EHSS process consists of three basic steps: pre-survey preparations, the on-site visit and the assessment report.

2.1 Pre-survey preparations

The pre-survey preparation step involves the collection and review of any and all information available on the beach and adjacent area, including reports of any previous surveys. It can provide valuable information on historical trends, problems and successes, which will help ensure a more thorough and efficient on-site visit. Initial preparations may begin with a review of basic beach information, such as the beach's physical characteristics, the types of activities practised and estimates of beach attendance. The use of topographical maps, aerial photos and geographic information system (GIS) data can provide additional perspective and help in the identification of contamination sources, potential sampling sites and nearby land uses. The examination of historically accumulated data relating to microbiological results, beach postings and disease surveillance will provide information on the area's suitability for recreation and the potential risks for swimmers. Assessment of hydrological, meteorological and other information on rainfall, currents, tides, prevailing winds and potential discharges (sewage, storm drains, other waste discharges) can help identify their impact (either singly or collectively) on water quality.

2.2 On-site visit

The purpose of the on-site visit is to visually identify and confirm any and all existing or potential water quality hazards. Information may similarly be collected on the existence and adequacy of public facilities, safety provisions and mechanisms for public awareness and communication. For the purposes of this EHSS, a hazard is an object or condition that may endanger human health or safety. For most swimming areas, contact with faecal pollution in the environment represents a significant concern; thus, attention should be paid to the potential sources of faecal contamination, both point sources (discharge or drainage that may contain sewage, stormwater or other faecal wastes) and diffuse sources (e.g., domestic and wild animals and birds, stormwater runoff from the beach and surrounding areas, septic wastes, contamination from swimmers themselves).

Additional existing or potential hazards can include:

  • chemical hazards (e.g., industrial discharges, contamination from marinas/watercraft);
  • biological hazards (e.g., cyanobacterial blooms, organisms responsible for swimmer's itch); and
  • physical hazards (e.g., litter, poor visibility).

Other information collected may be useful in identifying hazards that are less visible. For example, the presence of large amounts of floating debris may be indicative of sewage or stormwater discharges. An example of an EHSS checklist, which includes the type of information to be collected during an on-site visit, is provided in Appendix D.

Additionally, it is advisable to conduct site visits under both dry and wet weather conditions. The effects of rainfall and storm events on water quality should be investigated. Certain contamination events (e.g., runoff, stormwater discharges) may be visible only during rainfall periods. Representative water samples may also be collected and analysed to confirm the presence of contamination and determine its variability and source. Shortened surveys may also be carried out throughout the swimming season at the time of microbiological monitoring to collect more timely information about the recreational water area. Such information has demonstrated value in developing models that may be capable of predicting water quality. Further information on these topics can be found in Section 10.0 (Faecal pollution source tracking) and Appendix B (Microbiological sampling and analysis).

2.3 Assessment report

Once the on-site visit is completed, a risk assessment should be performed to identify priority water quality hazards. Risks, for the purpose of this EHSS, should consider the likelihood of exposure to a given hazard and the associated consequence. Conducting a proper risk assessment therefore requires the consideration of the factors that may contribute to a swimmer's exposure. These may include the proximity of the hazard to the swimming area, effects of the area's physical characteristics (depth, water circulation), potential weather influences, types and patterns of recreational activities practised in the area and impacts of any existing barriers. For example, in the case of the combined sewer overflow, factors contributing to swimmer exposure could be heavy rains causing a discharge of sewage material, currents or winds driving this material towards the swimming area and the absence of public communication methods advising that contact with the water should be avoided for a period immediately following heavy rainfall. The risk assessment may also be used to identify potential points at which additional barriers may be needed to reduce the degree of human exposure.

The process should culminate with the production of an assessment report, which should be used when developing further beach management or operational plans. In addition to reporting on the survey findings, the report should specify priorities for action, identify barriers that may be implemented and provide recommendations for an appropriate beach monitoring program.

Recommandations for a monitoring program should identify specific sampling locations, times and frequencies, as well as outline the steps to be taken in the event that a warning or other actions are required.

The flowchart in Figure 1 (modified from Codd et al., 2005) is suggested as a possible sequence of events when designing and implementing a multi-barrier strategy for recreational waters. It may be used as a guide for beach operators, service providers or responsible authorities wishing to develop their own operational plans.

Figure 1. Possible sequence of events for designing and implementing a multi-barrier strategy for recreational waters

A flowchart which outlines a possible sequence of events for designing and implementing a multi-barrier strategy for recreational waters
Description of a flowchart which outlines a possible sequence of events for designing and implementing a multi-barrier strategy for recreational waters - Text Equivalent
A suggested sequence of events for designing and implementing a multi-barrier approach strategy for recreational waters can be summarized in a flowchart consisting of nine consecutive steps. On the left of the flowchart, in boxes, are the 9 individual steps; on the right side are the parts of the Environmental Health and Safety Survey (EHSS) process - in circles. Arrows are used to indicate which flowchart steps correspond to which part of EHSS. Step one in the flowchart is (1) Situation Assessment, which corresponds to the first two parts of the EHSS process: Pre-survey preparations and the On-site visit. The next five steps: (2) Assessing priorities for action, (3) Identification of potential barriers, (4) Appraisal of feasible barriers (health, economic and environmental considerations), (5) Selection of options and (6) Formulate options into an action plan - all correspond to the last step of the EHSS process, the Assessment Report. The final three steps in the flowchart are: (7) Implement action plan, (8) Monitor effectiveness of action plan and (9) Revise plan if necessary. More specific information relating to types of barriers can be found in the body of the document.
Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: