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Oct. 19, 2021 | Tuesday
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Chautauqua park not a 'beach,' says region
Visitors and residents frequently swim at Ryerson Park beach. (Richard Harley/Niagara Now)

Residents of the Chautauqua community are concerned that the water quality at Ryerson Beach isn’t being tested, although the beach is frequently used as a swimming spot for residents and tourists alike.

Ruth Denyer, a resident and board member of the Chautauqua Residents Association, has been pushing to have water sampling reinstated.

Ryerson Park Beach hasn’t been on the docket for testing for at least seven years because it doesn’t meet the region’s criteria of a beach, according to Anthony Habjan, manager of environmental health for the region.

Habjan said it isn’t just as simple as putting Ryerson on the list of beaches to test.

The beach would first have to be designated a municipal public beach by the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and would have to meet certain criteria, such as having public bathrooms and parking, he said, before it would be considered for testing. The use of the beach would also need to dramatically increase, he said, which would mean the town would need to put a lot of money into the maintenance and promotion of the beach.

Queens’s Royal Beach is being tested three times a week, though it doesn’t fall under the region’s list of tested beaches, he said, adding that testing there is a “unique case.”

“The Ministry of Environment pitched in with some of the cost, and the town with some of their summer students and staff they could train, to take the samples and continue with the testing and progress they’ve been doing,” he said.

This season the testing at Queen’s Royal Beach turned back unsafe results five times, which resulted in 13 days of closure, public health inspector Jeremy Kelly said in an email.

The beach season began on May 21, and Queen’s Royal was first sampled on May 27.

Kelly said it was open for about 85 per cent of the season so far and was posted on June 11, June 22, July 18, July 30 and Aug. 9.

The region analyzes the samples and immediately publishes results online, sending the findings to town staff who flip the posting at the beach if the water is deemed unsafe, Habjan said. The sign is located at the King and Delater streets intersection.

Ryerson Park Beach just doesn’t meet enough of the criteria to be tested, he said. The Niagara Region website lists 24 beaches that are actively tested, six of which are listed as having no bathrooms, parking, or both.

Habjan said the missing washroom and parking icons on the website are the result of an online glitch, and each beach listed does have those amenities on site. He said the region plans to revamp the website.

Town staff at Grimsby Town Hall verified both Casablanca Beach and Nelles Beach have parking and portable toilets on-site. St. Catharines City Hall verified Sunset Beach is equipped with both. Town staff at Fort Erie said they believed both Bernard Avenue Beach and Crescent Beach were equipped with both, but were unable to verify by deadline on Wednesday.

And Wainfleet Town staff said Reebs Bay does have parking and portable toilets but said Long Beach had neither, though there is parking a short walk from the beach and a portable toilet in one of the town lots.

In 2018, Denyer advocated for the Niagara Region to start testing the waters, sending in photos of people in the water and explaining the beach has seen a boom in use in the past few years.

She was told then that the region would look into the matter and succeeded in having the beach reviewed in 2018.

Habjan said the region assessed the use at Ryerson Park Beach several times, at different times of day and varied days of the week to get a clear grasp of the beach’s use. Each time, he said there were no more than six people in the water and fewer than 20 on the beach.

During the assessment in the summer of 2018, he said region staff took pictures of the water to analyze the use. On July 31, 2018, at 1:50 p.m., they recorded six people in the water and 13 on the beach. On Aug. 16, at 3:39 p.m., there were no people in the water and eight on the beach. And on Aug. 25, at 1:15 p.m., they recorded no people in the water and three on the beach.

The stats, he said, aren’t considered high traffic, when some of the beaches monitored have hundreds of people swimming at peak times.

Denyer said the numbers recorded aren’t truly reflective of the number of swimmers, as people swim all day and come and go.

Habjan said he wishes he could monitor all water used for swimming but there are other factors, including limited time and staff for water testing, preventing more thorough testing of all of Niagara’s beaches. The Region of Niagara has two teams of two people to test the water quality at beaches across Niagara, he said, which means staff are already bogged down with the current list of testable beaches.

“We have criteria that we have to meet. We have to look up the number of beaches that we have the ability to sample. Not just to sample, but to safely sample,” he said.

He said even if the town were to make the beach public, it would need to be reviewed and examined and placed on the list for 2020.

In the meantime, concerned residents or groups can go to an independent lab and request testing of the water, but those tests can be costly, Habjan said

Each water test costs about $500, Regional Coun. Gary Zalepa said during a Chautauqua Residents Association meeting in May.

He said the region has a “prudent policy” to “measure usage of beaches in order to determine water testing.”

“A review was conducted last year at Ryerson Beach. Usage did not warrant testing at that time,” said Zalepa. “Should any further review determine otherwise, it is my belief that residents or community groups should not pay for this testing.”

Denyer is now working with Zalepa to see what solutions are out there, if the residents’ association is to pay, to make sure the findings can be posted at the beach for the public to see.

“I’m looking into the process and cost of water testing that could be paid for by community sources,” said Zalepa.