By taking a short drive, residents can enjoy several beaches in the region, with peace of mind this summer by staying connected to the provincial government's Healthy Beaches Online Program

Water samples are collected bi-weekly and analyzed from June through September at several public beaches, including Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park Beach or Cottonwood, Darlings Beach at Lac Pelletier, and Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park West Beach.

Julie Kryzanowski, deputy chief medical health officer with the Ministry of Health, said the purpose of the program is to monitor water quality. 

"The beaches are monitored to protect swimmers from illnesses associated with high levels of bacteria or other toxins that can cause health problems," she said. "The sampling is conducted in order to determine whether the water quality meets Canadian recreational water guidelines."

Many factors can affect water quality including environmental and built factors such as rainfall, wind causing waves, water and air temperatures, exposure to animal populations, industrial waste discharges and stormwater outflows. 

While the focus of the program remains on human health, results from monitoring can produce useful data for environment and agricultural sectors, too.

There are two things in particular that the province looks for when collecting samples: bacterial levels (E. coli) and blue-green algae. 

"E. coli is a group of bacteria also part of the group of coliform bacteria and found in the guts of human and animals, it can spread person to person through the water so that's why it's important to be monitored," said Kryzanowski. "When contaminated water is ingested, it can cause gastrointestinal illness or stomach upset, including vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and stomach cramps.

"The other thing that we're looking for is a microsystem toxin that's produced by blue-green algae. This can cause health issues when people are exposed to it ... skin irritation or allergies or respiratory problems. If the water is ingested, it could cause serious health problems as well for both people and animals, because it does damage the liver."

If either of these are present in the results the beach is deemed unsafe, and people are advised to avoid swimming or wading at the siter until the water levels are safe again.