Parlee Beach water testing now to follow federal guidelines

Starting this summer, Canadian recreational water quality guidelines will be adopted for Parlee Beach, the provincial government announced on Wednesday.

The change comes after months of controversy over poor water quality at the popular beach that led to the province finally admitting it made errors that misinformed beachgoers about the health risks of swimming in contaminated water.

Residents had urged the government in recent months to adopt the federal guidelines — used in most provinces — instead of the made-in-New Brunswick water-monitoring system it introduced at Parlee Beach back in 2001, arguing it led to confusion, and understated health risks.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, acting chief medical officer of health for the province, said the old signs will be taken out of use and replaced by the ones recommended in the federal guidelines.

Now, when fecal streptococci exceeds a value of 35/100ml water in an average of samples, or 70/100ml in a single sample, a clear no swimming sign will be posted at all entrances and trails leading to the beach, said Russell.

If Parlee Beach had followed federal guidelines in 2016, a no swimming advisory should have been issued on at least 10 days.

Minister of Environment Serge Rousselle described the changes Wednesday as "the right thing to do."

"I think people know that we are doing what has to be done," said Rousselle. "We know this is a real gem, this is important for tourism. But at the same time I think people want — and that's the way it should be — the good warning, and then they can make an informed decision."

Some of the other changes that will take effect this summer include:

- Water samples to be taken 7 days a week, instead of weekly

- Samples will be taken at five different locations around the beach, to allow calculation of a geometric mean

- Public Health will have an enhanced role and will be responsible for receiving and interpreting results

- The Department of Tourism will no longer be involved in the water-monitoring process

- Water quality results, and advisories, will be posted online by Public Health

'Long overdue'

Dr. Scott Mawdsley, who owns a cottage near Parlee Beach, helped bring awareness to issues at Parlee Beach when he wrote a 106-page letter to Premier Brian Gallant in December, calling the oversight of water quality there "odd" and "sordid," and urging the province to adopt widely used federal guidelines.

"I'm happy and excited to see the government has implemented beach water testing standards and methodology that represent the gold standard for ensuring public swimming safety," said Mawdsley Wednesday.

"I'm confident that with these standards in place, tourists will appreciate knowing we're protecting their good health when swimming closures are necessary."

Remi Donelle, manager of the Shediac Bay Watershed Association, said changes in the sampling protocol for Parlee Beach were 'long overdue.'

"These guidelines were set for a reason," said Donelle. They're science based."

Donelle believes sampling the water every day will also help understand where the contamination problem is coming from.

Though the stirring committee isn't expected to publish a report on the causes of fecal contamination in Shediac Bay before 2018, Rousselle said the government will announce "in the near future" some mitigation planned for this summer.

A water-quality monitoring protocol will also be developed for Murray Beach and all other provincial parks, based on the principles behind the Parlee Beach protocol. Each park will be assessed before this summer.