Nfld. & Labrador

Don't dive into dirt: What you need to know before jumping in that pond

A guide to making sure the water you're about to swim in is A-OK.

Is any random pond safe to swim in? Well, it depends.

A perfect reflection at Gibbet Hill, across from Deadman's Pond on Signal Hill in St. John's. (Submitted by Frank Stanley)

It's a hot summer day and you're out with your friends on a hike.

You're dripping with sweat, your backpack feels heavier with every step, and you start questioning if choosing a hike over brunch was a good idea. 

Then, when you least expect it, you come across a seemingly ideal swimming hole.

And as Drake said in his latest viral tweet, "What am I gonna do, say no?"
Think before you follow Drizzy's blind advice! (Drake/Apple Music)
Well, maybe.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government does not regulate natural outdoor swimming spots when it comes to water quality.

So how can you tell if a body of water is swimmable?

Water technician Sarah Crocker has some tips on how to determine if a pond is fit to dive into. (David Gonzalez/CBC)

Sarah Crocker, an environmental technician for Northeast Avalon Atlantic Coastal Action Program, has the following tips for figuring out if the water quality of a pond is clean enough to dive in.

1. Look at what's nearby

Run off from farmlands can make water unsafe for swimming. (City of Richmond/LetsTalkRichmond.ca)

Look out for houses which might have septic systems or commercial properties with runoff issues. Nearby farmlands also make neighbouring swimming holes a no-no.

"We are always very conscious about the water washing off the roadways and into our streams," said Crocker.

2. Murky water not a deal breaker

Tetley Pond, located on the Southside Hills in St. John's, is a popular swimming hole. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Dark brown does not usually mean dirty.

in many cases this is a result of tannins which are natural organic materials that can be the byproducts of nature's fermentation process, be created as water passes through peaty soil and decaying vegetation.

"A lot of our water is sort of dark brown which is ok," said Crocker.

3. Lots of algae, not a good sign

A bloom of blue-green algae as shown by researchers. (Submitted by University of Alberta)

Some type of algae could be lethal. Blue-green algae is one of them. It's a bacteria — called cyanobacteria — that can produce toxins which are harmful to people and animals. 

"If you see a lot of algae growing it's probably an indication that is not the best water quality for swimming" said Crocker.

4. Wildlife in the water can be friends, not foes

Certain wildlife can indicate that the water is suitable for taking a dip. (Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

Some small animals such as stone flies, mayflies and turtles can also be a good indicator of water quality. On the other hand, Crocker says lots of dead fish or multiple nearby carcasses are a major sign that there is something fishy in the waters. So, stay on the look out!

5. Request info from your local municipality

When in doubt, contact your local municipality for information.

According to an email from Service NL, the government does not regulate outdoor swimming spots, but some particularly popular swimming holes may be checked for water quality, if someone has requested a test.

Those requests for testing normally come from nearby residents who are concerned about contamination, the email said.

"While Service NL tests for E.coli only, these 'swimming holes' are most commonly located in pools associated with fast-moving river waters that typically have no obvious sources of contamination."

6. When in doubt, there are always blow-up pools!

Crocker has one more key piece of advice for swimmers not sure if its safe to move forward. 

"Most things you can't see with a naked eye, you would need to test for bacterial or other pathogenic organisms," she said.

"We can use our senses for a lot of those water quality issues, but again testing at a lab would give you a full picture." 

If you're still unsure about the water quality in an outdoor swimming hole, blow-up pools may be the option for you!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Gonzalez

Journalist

David Gonzalez is a Gzowski intern working with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.

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