Bayfront Beach is not a suitable area for public recreation, and the water quality is so bad it should be closed until the problem can be fixed, says Hamilton Public Health.

And one official dedicated to remediating the bay says maybe it's time to talk about the future of the beach overall.

Public Health officials often temporarily close the area to swimming because of E.coli and blue green algae levels. Last year, the man-made beach was deemed unsafe for swimming 78 per cent of the time between Victoria Day and Labour Day.

Now in a new report to the board of health, health officials go even farther, saying the area just isn't suitable for swimming without significant work to improve the water quality. 

'We can't avoid it at this point.' - Chris McLaughlin, executive director of the Bay Area Restoration Council

"Bayfront Beach is not a suitable recreational area," reads a new report by Eric Mathews, manager of water safety programs. Furthermore, the beach "should be closed until action is taken to improve the water quality."

The reason, it says, is a "history of poor water quality" in the swimming area.

The Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan says water quality at the harbour's public beaches — Bayfront Park and Pier 4 Park — must meet provincial beach management protocol for 80 per cent of the swimming season or more for three consecutive years.

Bayfront Beach hasn't met this criteria since 1999. 

The ability to swim in the bay is symbolic, says Chris McLaughlin, executive director of the Bay Area Restoration Council (BARC).

The city created the beach in 1993 during the development of Bayfront Park. The goal was to increase access to the bay, whether that be through walking, swimming, bicycling or other uses.

'Can I touch it?'

That has worked, McLaughlin said. But it's likely time to look at whether the beach is worth the time and money compared to other efforts.

"We can't avoid it at this point," he said.

He cautioned against seeing the condition of Bayfront Beach as a failure to restore the bay though. 

"What it really comes down to is 'Can I paddle around? Can I get the harbour on me? Can I touch it? Can I take my kids down there and enjoy it?' That's increasing in different areas all the time.

"My fear would be to throw up those issues with Bayfront Beach and become pessimistic with the progress we're making. That would be my fear. I don't think that would be a fair conclusion with all the work we've put into it to date."

Many people haven't swam there for years

Aidan Johnson, Ward 1 councillor in his thirties, remembers not swimming at Bayfront Beach when he was a kid. There was a perception then that the water wasn't clean.

People want to swim worry-free in the harbour again, he said. He cited the example of Kristen Villebrun and Wendy Bush, two First Nations women who floated on a raft to protest pollution in the bay in November.

He's not sure the water can be suitable for swimming again, but "it's something people actively miss doing."

Lake Ontario and conservation authority beaches fare better in Hamilton. Since 2010, a report shows, those beaches — Beach Boulevard, Confederation Park and Van Wagners, as well as Binbrook and Christie — have remained open more than 90 per cent of the time. 

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca