British Columbia

Brentwood Bay bacteria spike blamed on 'live-aboard' boat dwellers

The Saanich Inlet Protection Society says the number of people inhabiting the bay has increased over the years and are likely the reason for higher counts of enterococci bacteria in the waters.

District has posted warnings at popular swimming spot since June due to high counts of enterococci bacteria

Central Saainich Mayor Ryan Windsor says the district is hoping to get a licence of occupation to give it more power to deal with the increasing number of boat-dwellers in Brentwood Bay. (Cecile Brisebois Guillemot/Facebook)

The growing number of people living aboard boats in Brentwood Bay is being blamed for an increase in bacteria in the waters that has led to warnings about swimming at a popular beach.

Warning signs have been posted at Brentwood Bay Beach in Central Saanich, B.C., since June due to high levels of enterococci, a bacteria found in the digestive tracts of humans and animals. The bacteria can also be caused by tide changes, heat and rainfall runoff.

Michael Simmons, vice-president of the Saanich Inlet Protection Society, says the number of "live-aboards" who inhabit the bay has increased over the years and the bacteria is likely caused by them.

"We think it's coming from the marine side. On the marine side it possibly could be marine mammals ... we think it's more likely coming from the livaboards in the bay," Simmons said.

Simmons says he has spoken with engineers who have tested the storm water drains and sanitary sewers for leaks and they have told him there is no evidence of contamination from those systems.

'Source can be difficult to determine'

Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor confirmed that tests of storm water and sanitary systems showed they were not the cause of elevated bacteria counts. But he is hesitant to blame the boats in the bay.

"Sometimes the source can be difficult to determine," Windsor said. "At this point it's too early to jump to any conclusions, but we're continuing to monitor what's going on in the bay."

Windsor says that municipal staff, Island Health and the Capital Regional District are continuing to monitor the problem.

"It may be an inconvenience to people but safety is paramount, obviously," he said.

Nathaniel Poole who is the president of the Brentwood Bay Marine Community Society — which represents people who live on board their vessels — says that people who live on shore are too quick to point the finger at "live-aboards".

"People who live on shore, they use this as an issue to motivate officials to clear out harbours, to clear out livea-boards, to clear out boats out of their front yard," he said.

Poole says, in the past, his community has taken it upon itself to do testing and they have only ever found contamination close to shore. He also says the sheer size of the bay makes it nearly impossible for the boats in it to be the cause of the bacteria.

"The whole idea half a dozen people are completely fouling the entire bay given the sheer volume of water and the tidal flows in and out of there are up to two knots a day, is absolutely ludicrous," he said. 

District seeks jurisdiction over bay

As the number of boats in Brentwood Bay increases, the district is working with the province toward a licence of occupation that would give them jurisdiction over the waters.

"The district is taking a bit more initiative because the problem [of more boats] has been growing over the last couple of years," Wilson told Manusha Janakiram, guest host of CBC's All Points West.

"A lot of them are probably responsible boat owners. We feel that everyone wants to do the right thing, but there needs to be greater coordination so the district is perusing a licence of occupation to take on a leadership role," he said.

Wilson says that with better coordination of services, they can make sure that pump out services are being used and that people are abiding by holding tank requirements.

But Poole says following the rules is just "good seamanship", and he's quick to add that the boats in the bay are under federal jurisdiction and all vessels are meant to follow Transport Canada rules and regulations.

"We would have no problem whatsoever if the coast guard was to come in under their authority and asked to inspect."

Listen to the full interviews with Michael Simmons and Ryan Windsor:

Listen to the full interview with Nathaniel Poole:

With files from All Points West

Read more from CBC British Columbia


  • An earlier version of this story stated that Brentwood Bay Beach was closed. The beach is not in fact closed to public access; instead, the district has posted signs advising the public that the water may be unsafe for swimming.
    Jul 24, 2018 11:24 AM PT


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