After three decades ‘impaired’, Niagara River’s only public beach on Canadian side finally safe for swimming

Due to excess bacterial pollution, the water quality at Queen’s Royal Beach in Niagara-on-the-Lake (pictured) was designated “impaired” and unsafe for swimming in 1993. Photo credit: NPCA 


It turns out that the Canadian side of the Niagara River didn’t need an ultra-stringent environmental designation that subjects local authorities to the whims of international regulators to improve its water quality. Existing, homegrown conventions worked just fine. 

As the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) reported last week, the strait that connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario and includes the world-famous Niagara Falls recently reached an “important environmental milestone”. 

In early March, the NPCA received correspondence from Environment and Climate Change Canada confirming that the Niagara River’s “Beach Closing” Beneficial Use Impairment (BUI) has officially been re-designated “not impaired” – meaning the presence of E. coli from fecal pollution has reached a sufficiently low-enough level to allow for swimming. 

“Water is critical to supporting our local environment, economy, and human health,” CAO of the NPCA Chandra Sharma said in a statement on May 5. 

“The NPCA is proud to be leading the Niagara River Remedial Action Plan program with its partners since the 1990s to prioritize and mobilize actions to improve water quality and ecosystem health. We sincerely thank the Government of Canada and Province of Ontario for their continued investments in the health of the Great Lakes and their surrounding communities.”

Queen’s Royal Beach in Niagara-on-the-Lake – currently the only public swimming beach on the Canadian side of the Niagara River – has been deemed unsafe for swimming since 1993, when it was first listed in the Niagara River Remedial Action Plan (RAP) program’s inaugural report. 

At that time, there were other swimming beaches on the Canadian side of the river. The other locations have since been removed as public beaches by the Niagara Parks Commission out of public safety concerns unrelated to contamination. 

The river’s water quality problems stemmed primarily from urban stormwater runoff. To address the issue, throughout the years the NPCA, Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and other RAP partners have used provincial and federal funding to lead extensive water quality monitoring, microbial source tracking studies, storm sewer investigations, and implementation of remedial actions that, according to the local conservation authority, have resulted in “significant water quality improvements.”

“Queen’s Royal Beach boasts a breathtaking view and a unique waterfront experience in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” Town CAO Marnie Cluckie said. 

“Improving the water quality is a significant achievement for the Town, NPCA, and Environment and Climate Change Canada, and I am very grateful for all community partners who remained dedicated to improving the water quality of the Niagara River.” 

The Niagara River was identified as one of 43 ‘Areas of Concern’ (AOCs) in and around the Great Lakes in the late 1980s due to water quality and habitat problems. 

By law, individualized remedial action plans are required for all 43 AOCs. 

Led by the NPCA since 1999, the Niagara River RAP program brings together various organizations to improve the river’s water quality and ecosystem health through targeted monitoring and restoration efforts. The program’s ultimate goal is to restore up to 14 environmental challenges to delist the Niagara River as an Area of Concern. 

“While this news brings RAP partners one step closer to delisting the Niagara River, there is more work to be done,” NPCA manager of climate change and special programs Natalie Green said.

“Progress continues to be made on implementing priority actions, as identified in the RAP’s five-year Delisting Strategy, to restore four remaining impairments related to fish consumption, sediment quality, habitat, and fish and wildlife populations.”

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