last mountain lake

Provincial health officials are advising people to be careful with recreational use of lakes like Last Mountain Lake, due to elevated levels of E. coli in the water. (CBC)

Recreational users of lakes and waterways in Saskatchewan are being warned that testing has found high levels of the bacteria E. coli in many parts of the province.

"It is recommended that residents avoid flood waters at this time, including refraining from water contact sports and taking care not to drink or bathe in the water," Tim Macaulay, an official with the Ministry of Health said in a statement issued Tuesday.

According to the ministry Last Mountain, Echo, Pasqua and Katepwa lakes were tested on July 3 and the elevated E. coli levels were detected.

A microbiologist at the University of Regina, who is not affiliated with the province, told CBC News Tuesday that elevated levels of E. coli suggest fecal matter as a possible source.

"It's implying that there is more fecal material potentially in the water," Christopher Yost said.

The statement from the Ministry of Health suggested the elevated E. coli levels were associated with flooding.

Yost added that ingesting water with elevated E. coli levels could lead to sickness.

"You would show symptoms that you might equate with food poisoning," he explained. "Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Those types of situations."

The province said testing of other lakes, including Crooked Lake and Round Lake, were underway and that similar results were expected.

The lakes are part of the Qu'Appelle Valley water system. Wascana Creek flows into the Qu'Appelle River and, in recent days the City of Regina announced it was sending waste water into the creek that had not been thoroughly treated. The city said Tuesday afternoon that it had stopped doing that and its waste water treatment system was back to normal.

While the city's move raised concerns that untreated water would affect lakes in the Qu'Appelle basin, Saskatchewan's Water Security Agency has said that is not possible.

According to the agency, by the time the affected water flows out of the creek and reaches the Qu'Appelle lakes, via the Qu'Appelle River, it would be so diluted that it would not be a health issue.