Gorge swim event bolstered by good water-quality results

Waterway cleanup efforts over the years have worked, but swimmers still few

Swimmers jump off the dock at Banfield Park and into the the Gorge Waterway to help promote the upcoming Gorge Swim Fest to be held Aug. 12 from noon until 4 p.m. Swimmers can take part at three locations: Banfield Park

People considering taking the plunge at the upcoming Gorge Swim Fest can rest assured the water seems to present no threat to health.

“I haven’t met anybody who’s not for swimming in the Gorge,” said one of the event’s organizers, Jack Meredith. “They’re all excited about it, but then they immediately go to ‘is it clean?’ … People are concerned about that.”

Preliminary lab tests by the Vancouver Island Health Authority show very low fecal coliform counts. Samples taken at Curtis Point and Banfield dock both show the water quality is well above the threshold established for safe swimming, said Erwin Dyck, VIHA’s supervisor of health protection. At the same time, he qualified that two samples aren’t enough for conclusive results.

VIHA will continue to test the water regularly until the big swim event Aug. 12.

Gorge Swim Fest takes place at three locations from noon to 4 p.m.: Banfield Park (in Vic West), Gorge Park (at Curtis Point in Saanich), and Gorge-Kinsmen Park (in Esquimalt).

The purpose of the festival is to re-introduce people to swimming in the Gorge – which for decades in the early 20th century was an activity that attracted thousands of people throughout the region.

By the 1930s, pollution in the water discouraged most people from swimming. And despite two decades of clean-up efforts starting in the 1990s, few people have started swimming again.

Meredith hopes the festival will help to change that. Already, buzz about the event is starting to make people think differently about the Gorge.

Bob Gebbie, coach of a triathlon club called TriStars Training, took part in a promotional swim event recently. He said most club members spend an hour driving to and from Thetis Lake for training.

“The convenience of swimming in the Gorge, as well as utilizing the excellent run paths and biking routes, struck me,” Gebbie said, in an email to the News.

The festival includes music, food and prizes. A photo contest is also underway where you can post swimming pictures in the Gorge for a chance to win trips on Helijet, Harbour Air, Black Ball Ferry and for whale watching. Submission deadline is Aug. 31.

Details can be found at gorgewaterway.ca/gorgeswimfest.htm or search Gorge Swim Fest on Facebook.

Water quality by the numbers

• Recreational water-quality guidelines by Health Canada advise against swimming if the mean of five samples indicate fecal coliform levels higher than 200 cfu/100 ml (colony-forming units per 100 ml of water).

• Measurements at Curtis Point indicate 3 cfu/100 ml at first sampling, and 6 cfu/100 ml at second sampling.

• Measurements at Banfield dock indicate 5 cfu/100 ml followed by 32 cfu/100 ml.

Did you know?

• The Gorge Swim Fest is a collaborative effort by community or residents’ associations in Esquimalt, Vic West, Burnside-Gorge and Gorge-Tillicum. Organizers are still seeking volunteers. Visit www.gorgewaterway.ca/gorgeswimfest.htm for contact information.

rholmen@vicnews.com

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