Toronto beaches closed due to high bacteria levels

Click to play video: 'High E. Coli  counts close several Toronto beaches' High E. Coli counts close several Toronto beaches
After this week's heavy rain, the city of Toronto had to bypass water treatment plants in order to avoid flooding. That means untreated water, including sewage, went directly into Lake Ontario. Katherine Ward has more – Aug 9, 2018

It was a picture perfect day to hit the beach on Thursday.

But at Sunnyside Park, the bacteria in the water kept many people on dry land.

“The water is basically empty,” said Ellen Pearson. “Just heaps of people tanning like us, but no one in the water.”

Sunnyside Beach was one of five beaches in Toronto that was closed for the day. From the sky, cloudy water could be seen with the naked eye, indicating high levels of bacteria.

READ MORE: Dramatic images show aftermath of heavy rain, flash flooding in Toronto

Red flags flew above the lifeguard guard chairs on the ground, giving people fair warning about the danger.

“I would never swim in Lake Ontario, ever since I was a kid I was told not to swim in it,” said Kate Turner a regular at the park.

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“I would go in up to my knees, but I wouldn’t want to fall in off a boat, and I certainly wouldn’t want to put my face under.”

The nearby Toronto city pool was packed with people. And for those determined to swim in Mother Nature, several other beaches were still open.

The city posts all beach closures, and E. coli levels online to keep the public informed.

READ MORE: Swim advisory lifted at Minets Point Beach in Barrie

That’s why Linda Moore chose Woodbine Beach as her spot to cool off.

“I follow that, so i checked to make sure that woodbine was open tonight,” Moore said.

“Woodbine Beach is pretty good most of the time, but you don’t want to be swimming in that if there is a chance you could get an infection.”

It’s not unusual for beaches to be closed after heavy downpours like Toronto saw Tuesday night.

The city’s sewer systems can be partly to blame. In order to avoid flooding, the city bypasses water treatment plants sending sewage directly into Lake Ontario.

On Tuesday night, both Ashbridges Bay and Humber waste water treatment plants were bypassed.

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No sewer water was treated at Humber for about five hours. That works out to roughly 34-thousand cubic meters of untreated water.

READ MORE: Swim advisory issued for Centennial Beach and Minets Point Beach after elevated bacteria levels recorded

While Ashbridges Bay waste water treatment plant was bypassed for about three and a half hours. That lead to roughly 127-thousand cubic meters of untreated sewer water going directly into the lake.

Despite the fact the water is untreated, officials said what’s being pumped into the lake is mostly rain water. The ratio breaks down to about four or five parts rain water to one part sewage. Despite the closure, hundreds of paddlers went ahead with their practice, under the watchful eye of Blake Hara who helps out at the Sunnyside Paddling club.

“The reality is that we paddle here almost every day. We’ve never had any serious situations in terms of E. Coli or infection,” Hara said.

“In the past though when the E. coli is high, sometimes teams would cancel, but that hasn’t happened today.”

Their goal Thursday tonight was to stay well above the water and not get splashed.

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