25 years later, Bayfront Beach is closed to swimming — with little hope of reopening

It's been a year of beach grooming, bird control and treating sand with peroxide, and Hamilton's man-made Bayfront Beach is still no closer to being safe for swimming again.

The city created the beach in 1993 with a dream of giving families a place to swim in the harbour

Bayfront Beach will be closed for swimming this year too, and likely the next, after city efforts to remediate it failed. (File photo)

It's been 25 years since the city built Bayfront Beach, and a new report shows Hamilton might be better off just turning it into a wetland and giving up the swimming dream altogether.

After a year trying beach grooming, bird control and treating sand with hydrogen peroxide, the Hamilton Harbour beach is no safer for swimming, the report says.

And while the city will keep looking at ways to clean it up, it will also look at "converting the space to a wetland or for (other) recreational activities." 

"Without a solution to the blue green algae issue," the report says, "the study team is not recommending any further remedial efforts to restore the beach for swimming at this time."

A bloom of blue-green algae as shown by researchers near Edmonton. The algae is a persistent problem at Bayfront and Pier 4 beaches. (University of Alberta)

It's a grim outcome for a beach the city created to encourage people to swim in the harbour as one of the final symbolic steps of the decades-long cleanup.

The city built the beach in 1993, a major part of the rehabilitation of the west harbour area for recreation. The area was first banned for swimming in the 1930s, and a 1950s Toronto urban planning professor called it "the world's largest and most beautiful septic tank."

In 1987, the International Joint Commission identified the harbour as one of 43 troubled areas, and an otherwise successful remedial action plan was born.

But despite other successes in the harbour cleanup, swimming remained an elusive goal. The city closed Bayfront Beach in 2016, and spent last year trying numerous ways to clean it up.

Bayfront Beach is a man-made beach created in 1993. (Hamilton Public Health)

It tried ultrasound technology to reduce blue green algae blooms, which are a persistent health issue. It tried new methods to scare off birds. But even if Bayfront had been open last year, the report says, it only would have been swimmable less than a third of the time.

"Efforts to improve water quality failed," the report says. And "blue green algae continues to be a predominant factor in closing the harbour beaches to swimming."

The beach will stay closed for 2018, while the also problematic Pier 4 Beach will be open, but monitored. If Pier 4 Beach conditions don't improve, both beaches will likely be closed next year.

By comparison, Lake Ontario beaches were open at least 92 per cent of the time last year.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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