Toronto's 11 lifeguarded beaches officially opened on Wednesday, with blue flags flying over six of them to indicate its waters are safe for swimming.

Despite a below-seasonal temperature of 18C on Wednesday, a few residents plunged into the chilly Lake Ontario waters at Woodbine Beach during the kickoff event.

"I think Torontonians still think that the lake is more polluted than it really is," said Dr. Rick Smith, of the group Environmental Defence, which maintains the blue flag program.

"There have been real improvements in water quality (over the years)."

A beach is awarded the blue flag if it is open for swimming more than 80 per cent of the summer.

The four beaches that have received the distinction again this year are:

  • Cherry Beach;
  • Woodbine Beaches;
  • Hanlan's Point Beach; and
  • Ward's Island Beach.

The two beaches to pass the mark this year are Centre Island Beach and the newly created Gibraltar Point Beach.

"The awarding of two more blue flags to Centre Island Beach and Gibraltar Point Beach shows the significant and measurable improvements we've made to our lake water quality and serves as another example of our commitment to making Toronto the cleanest, greenest and most livable city in North America," Mayor David Miller said in a statement.

Toronto Water officials, who say the city has some of the best and safest beaches in the world, will begin daily water quality sampling until the end of August.

Samples are tested for E. coli levels and must not exceed the provincial guidelines of 100 E. coli per 100 ml of water. When water tests show high amounts of E. coli bacteria, Toronto Public Health issues warning against swimming, and signs are posted at affected beaches.

Julie Dyck has been a lifeguard at Woodbine Beach for five years and says she has swum in Lake Ontario waters many times.

"It's really clean. I've never gotten sick from it. It's really a fun place to be," Dyck said.

To further improve beach water quality, the city has developed programs including:

  • A waterfowl and gull deterrent system;
  • A public education campaign to encourage people to dispose of food scraps and to not feed the birds;
  • In-water and land debris clean-up; and
  • Enhanced beach grooming.

For more information call the city's Beach Water Quality hotline at 416-392-7161 or visit the Toronto beach website.

With a report from CTV's Austin Delaney