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Great Lakes Article:

Rain closes many Toronto beaches
One beach closed 70% of summer
Christian Cotroneo
Toronto Star
08/12/03


Nearly half of Toronto's beaches were closed yesterday due to high levels of E. coli, but health officials say that's not unusual after a few days of rain.

With a dry spell coming, health officials expect at least a couple of the six beaches deemed unsafe for swimming to reopen within a day or two.

But if you're hoping to take a plunge at Sir Casimir Gzowski Park, nearest the mouth of the Humber River, don't hold your breath.

The beach is often at the receiving end of the Humber's River's most toxic bounty, with storm water flowing from city streets into the river, and then into that part of Lake Ontario near Windermere and Ellis Aves.

"It's a tremendous source of bacteria for us and the beaches as well," said Michael D'Andrea, manager of the city's water and waste-water management services division.

Although experts say bacteria levels over the last couple of years have come down, Sir Casimir remains closed about 70 per cent of the summer, D'Andrea said. That's down from a couple of years ago, when it was closed about 90 per cent of the time.

Part of the reason for easing levels of bacteria near the Humber is last year's opening of the Western Beaches Tunnel, a massive pipe that redirects sewage and storm water in that part of the city.

Although beaches furthest from the Humber are typically the cleanest, all Toronto beaches have been closed at one time or another.

"One of the reasons that beaches are posted unsafe for swimming is because of high levels of E. coli bacteria and the principal source of that bacteria is discharges from our sewer system," D'Andrea said.

Older parts of the city, like the downtown core, have double-duty pipes carrying raw sewage and storm water at once. When it rains heavily, that murky mixture frequently overflows into the lake.

Newer areas have separated systems, with raw sewage going directly to treatment plants, and storm water taking the higher road to the lake.

Still, it may not be enough.

"We find, surprisingly, when you look at the chemical of that storm water, it's also quite polluted and also high in E. coli levels," D'Andrea said.

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