Province's Parlee Beach report could put brake on some development, activist suggests

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A report on water quality at Parlee Beach has set a valuable baseline for making decisions about any development near Shediac Bay, says the head of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

The report by a steering committee of scientists, engineers and others was released Friday after an 18-month investigation into sources of  E. coli contamination at the popular beach on the Northumberland Strait.

"It's almost like these engineers have drawn a line in the sand for us, where they say, 'Don't cross this line because you'll get more poop,'" said Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council.

"Figure out how to keep it out of the water, and then we can all enjoy our destination of choice."

While high levels of fecal contamination have been reported at the beach for the past two decades, the committee described the water as "suitable for swimming" and said the presence of bacteria in surface water is common in North America. 

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Corbett noted the committee's conclusion that there was not a "chronic" water-quality problem at Parlee Beach, and that contamination can be exacerbated by rainfall, wind and tides.

"It's good news to hear that it's not happening day in and day out," she said in an interview with Information Morning Moncton. 

But overall, Corbett said, the report is a call for vigilance. 

"It doesn't mean we can sit back on our haunches and say 'We don't need any change."

In fact, she said, the bay needs attention "110 per cent of the time."

Tackle all sources

The report didn't pin down the main source of fecal contamination, which led to numerous swimming advisories last summer. 

But Corbett said it's important to tackle every source, including leaky septic systems, municipal sewage systems, agricultural runoff and even dogs.

"At the end of the day it's important to keep all sources, as much as possible, out of Shediac Bay to make sure that the beach remains a thriving, iconic destination for tourists and for residents."

Corbett called the report's findings a "shout-out" to political leaders and government officials to respect what science is saying before issuing permits "willy-nilly" for new campgrounds, coastal developments and the paving over of wetlands.

Need a protection plan

A watershed protection plan is the next step, she said. 

The plan could include a variety of actions, including public education for dog owners and private landowners, clamping  down on private campgrounds, and deciding whether there should be any growth at all before sewer systems are refurbished.

Help may also be needed for homeowners with septic systems, which do leak eventually.

"We may need to figure out how to help folks with leaky systems," Corbett said.

Provincial officials from Health, Tourism and Environment, as well as stakeholders and scientists, met regularly over the past year and a half to look at causes of Parlee Beach contamination and possible solutions.

Last summer, the highest bacterial counts were seen on Aug. 22, when one sample found fecal bacteria of 1,616 enterococci/100 ml water, almost 25 times above acceptable standards.

The steering committee made 14 recommendations, including more investigation, which the government said will be implemented at a cost of $760,000.