Albert Beach on Lake Winnipeg closed due to high E. coli levels

Significantly elevated levels of E. coli have been detected in some beaches along Lake Winnipeg, with levels at Albert Beach so high the province closed it on Friday. 

A beach advisory sign was posted near the beach’s entrance on Monday recommended beach users not go in the lake, especially if they have an open cut or wound. 

Despite the closure, people of all ages swam in the water, sunbathed on the shore or went paddle boarding on Monday. 

Cathy LaFleche, one of many people reading a book on the beach, said she still planned to swim.

“We don’t worry about the E. coli. It comes every season,” she said, sitting in her lawnchair.

“At some point they test, which it’s really good they test, but there’s no need to be really afraid of it.”

Many people wearing bathing suits lay on the beach in the sun.
Beachgoers enjoy the hot weather and cool off in the water at Albert Beach on Monday, despite a provincial closure that recommends against swimming there because of high levels of E. coli in the water. (Natalia Weichsel/Radio-Canada)

Anne LaFleche, who was visiting from Saskatchewan, was disappointed to hear the beach was closed but also said she’d still swim.

“I’ve been coming up to the lake here since I was, you know, four or five years old, and there’s always unexpected things when you come up here. You have to just kind of embrace what nature offers you,” she said.

E. coli is a bacteria found in the intestines of healthy animals, including humans, livestock, wildlife and birds. Certain strains are capable of causing severe disease.

The most common illness contracted by bathers involves an infection to the eyes, ears, nose and throat and a stomach ache. Symptoms can include a mild fever, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps, the province’s website says.

A 2003 study showed that less than 10 per cent of E. coli at Lake Winnipeg beaches was from humans, with the remaining numbers being from birds and animals. However, Winnipeg sewage spills into the Red River, which flows into Lake Winnipeg, have prompted First Nations to launch lawsuits against the city this spring.

Lise Bourassa, who co-owns Saffies General Store in Albert Beach, said she’s seen fewer people at the beach since the advisory went up. She thinks more people are choosing to swim at other lakes in the province, which can impact business. 

“It has an overall effect, you know, for everybody that is trying to earn a living here, who owns cottages, who, you know, wants to enjoy the water, and you know, something needs to happen so that this stops happening,” Bourassa said. 

Larry Overby said he’s been visiting Albert Beach for about 25 years and he doesn’t recall the beach ever having to temporarily close due to E. coli.

His family, who are all adults, have been swimming in the lake since the advisory went up, but not for extended periods of time, he said.

Manitoba Environment and Climate Change, in conjunction with Manitoba Health, monitors about 57 beaches across the province for E. coli to assess the risk of illness to people using the lake, beginning in June to the end of August.

Once E. coli counts go above 200 per 100 millilitres of water, an advisory sign is posted for the duration of the beach season and people are advised to take precautions to reduce the risk of illness, the province’s website said.

A beach advisory sign is posted on a yellow pole near the entrance of a beach.
Albert Beach, located on the south shore of Traverse Bay, has been temporarily closed since Friday due to significantly elevated levels of E. coli in the water, the province said on its website. (Natalia Weichsel/Radio-Canada)

Beach advisory signs for E. coli have been posted at West Grand, Sunset, Hillside, Winnipeg and Gimli beaches and will remain posted for the remainder of the season.

The advisories do not close the beaches, but suggest people:

  • Avoid swallowing lake water.
  • Wash hands before handling food.
  • Avoid swimming with an open cut or wound, or if ill.
  • Minimize water contact if lake levels are high and strong winds are blowing from the north.

Albert Beach will be sampled again on July 8, the province’s website said.