West Niagara beaches still safe after dog dies after Niagara-on-the-Lake swim

Dog and owner at the beach Blue green algae at lake beaches can be toxic at high levels for pets and humans

Water safety concerns spiked in Niagara Region this week after a vet attributed a dog’s death to toxic blue-green algae at a beach in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Nevertheless, the water is safe at West Niagara beaches, according to Jeremy Kelly, Public Health Team Lead Inspector for Niagara Region.

The dog, a year-old border collie named Jack, died Tuesday after a swim at the waterfront in Ryerson Park in Niagara-on-the-Lake. While the official cause of death has been confirmed, the veterinarian at Upper Canada Animal Hospital who treated the dog, suspects it may have been exposed to blue-green algae, a deadly water toxin.

The Ministry of Environment and Niagara Regional Public Health were notified immediately. Niagara-on-the-Lake has also installed signs by all waterfronts to notify the public.

Testing for Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) is currently underway. A HAB is a water contaminant that algae can produce. HABs lower oxygen levels in natural bodies of water. They are extremely dangerous for both animals and humans.

Kelly told Niagara Info that both Niagara Region and each municipality have procedures in place to monitor water quality across the region.

“We have six water safety representatives that conduct daily on-site inspections. They take water samples. They scan the beaches for safety concerns, such as maintenance issues and debris like broken bottles and bricks. They report any concerns immediately to the municipalities,” said Kelly.

Each beach gets tested at least once per week, and sometimes up to six times in seven days. “The representatives take five water samples, spaced out at various areas across each site,” said Kelly.

The samples are then sent to a lab. Test results are returned within 24 hours. Then any beach that poses a threat to the public is marked unsafe to swim. For instance, Nelles Beach in Grimsby has been closed this year for most of the summer due to erosion.

The presence of algae doesn’t mean you shouldn’t swim. “Every year, we get algae in some municipalities,” said Kelly. Algae is only a threat when it reaches a significant level. Beaches are also closed when test results show high levels of E.coli.

As a best practice, West Niagara residents should check water safety reports before visiting local beaches. Test results are posted every 24 to 48 hours at NiagaraRegion.ca. Niagara Info also posts daily water safety updates on its Instagram account.