Summer swim spot survey starts soon

17 Nov 2014

Annual summer water quality tests which indicate how suitable Northland’s most popular beaches, rivers and lakes are for swimming will begin later this month.

Sampling Whananaki North.

Northland Regional Council member Joe Carr, chairman of the council's Environmental Management Committee, says this year's testing programme will get underway on Monday November 24 and will run until the second week of March.

Councillor Carr, who represents the council's Hokianga-Kaikohe constituency, says staff have been monitoring bacterial levels at popular swimming spots over the summer for more than a decade.

He says hundreds of samples will be taken from 47 coastal and 13 freshwater sites Northland-wide to check bacterial levels at beaches, lakes and rivers most often used for swimming, water sports and similar forms of recreation.

Test results will be posted online weekly (on Fridays) at www.nrc.govt.nz/swimming allowing Northlanders and visiting holidaymakers to make informed decisions about where they swim.

Councillor Carr says depending on the number of bacteria in them, samples get one of three grades; 'green' (suitable to swim), 'amber' (potentially unsuitable for swimming) or 'red' (unsuitable for swimming).

Weekly results are also forwarded to the Whangarei, Far North and Kaipara District Councils, the Northland District Health Board (DHB) and other interested parties.

"The DHB and relevant district council are informed of any results showing elevated bacterial levels within 24 hours and it's then the board and the appropriate district council's responsibility to take action."

That can include further site investigations to establish the source of any contamination, public warnings not to swim or gather shellfish and putting up permanent warning signs at the worst sites.

Councillor Carr says there are four simple tips people can follow as a useful rule of thumb when trying to judge water quality:

  • Don't swim if there are warning signs indicating unsafe water;
  • Don't swim for two or three days after heavy rain;
  • Don't swim if water looks dirty/murky, smells or has scum on its surface;
  • Be aware of potential sources of contamination – both nearby and upstream.

"Fortunately, most of the popular spots we monitor are usually suitable for swimming, although Northland's high rainfall and hilly terrain means these can be temporarily contaminated by run-off from the land for several days after heavy rain."

He says anyone wanting to report concerns about water quality can contact the regional council's freephone 24/7 Environmental Hotline on (0800) 504 639.

"Those wanting to check water quality at their favourite spot can visit the council's website www.nrc.govt.nz/swimming or freephone 0800 002 004 for more information."