A report has found high concentrations of human waste in the water at Lower Sackville’s Kinsmen Beach on First Lake.

The bacterial analysis study on First Lake was on the agenda Thursday at Halifax regional council’s Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee as an information report. A consultant measured elevated e. coli bacteria concentrations exceeding the national recreational guideline at several stormwater outfalls in First Lake and Kinsmen Beach between June and September 2022.

The majority of collected samples were found to be from humans.

“This study found that 77% of samples collected on June 15 (2022) and 65% of samples collected on September 27 (2022) contained human fecal source markers,” notes an information report to the standing committee.

“Human markers were the majority identified at 76% of sites sampled on June 15 and 69% of sites sampled on September 27. Human markers were the dominant source of contamination at Kinsmen Beach.”

Growing interest in reopening the beach

In an open letter Thursday evening, Lower Sackville Coun. Paul Russell said the community has known about the e. coli problem at First Lake’s Kinsmen Beach for more than 30 years. Although some speculated ducks that frequent the beach were to blame, he said others thought it was pet waste, while some suspected human waste. 

The study’s authors said finding e. coli in high concentrations indicates domestic wastewater is entering the stormwater system around First Lake. 

“While avian, canine, and human markers of E. coli were found in samples collected as part of this study, human markers were found in the highest concentrations,” the report said.

After several summers of high bacteria results and frequent closures, Kinsmen Beach was removed from HRM’s municipal beach program in 2020. 

“After a number of years lifeguards stopped being assigned to the beach,” Russell wrote in the letter. “Their job had become to monitor the beach, and not the water, and to advise people that the beach was closed.”

The report notes that despite this, the beach, surrounding parks, and walking trails are regularly used by the community. In addition, the local canoe club offers programming on the lake throughout the summer when the problem most often rears its head. 

“With the frequent use of the area there is growing public interest in reopening the beach again for recreational activities,” the report said.

Report recommendations

Three recommendations are prioritized in the report.

The first is an investigation of the catchment areas around several stormwater outfalls to look for potential sanitary cross connections or leaking pipework.

All three lakes sampled in the study (First, Second, and Rocky lakes) detected dog waste. There are walking trails and residential backyards along First Lake, in addition to a dog park at Eddie LeBlanc ballfields adjacent to the lake. The report said because of this, public education on the importance of proper disposal of pet waste “may aid in reduction of loadings into the lake.”

There were also avian markers detected at Kinsmen Beach. The study’s authors found birds in the area during all five sampling events. 

“It is difficult to implement bird management controls, especially in public areas like the beach, but there are some deterrence and dispersion measures that could be investigated at a feasibility level once the human sources of E. coli have been investigated,” the authors wrote.

‘Only the first step’

Although a lot of work went into identifying the location and source of First Lake’s e. coli problem, Russell said “it’s only the first step.” Halifax Water is trying to identify where wastewater is getting into the stormwater system to “address human waste” entering First Lake.

HRM is looking at more nature-based solutions, which could include enhanced vegetation swales where the ground is used as a filtration system. Russell said HRM is also educating pet owners through its Canines for Clean Water  initiative.

“First Lake is a very important lake for the Lower Sackville community and for HRM. We are working towards making sure that the lake is healthy and that we can enjoy it fully,” Russell said.

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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