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Summer swim spot survey begins

27 Nov 2018, 8:51 AM

Annual summer water quality tests will begin Monday 03 December at some of Northland’s popular beaches, rivers and lakes. 

Environmental Monitoring Officer with sampling pole.Environmental Monitoring Officer Adam Phillips at Matauri Bay; one of the places sampled as part of the regional council’s annual summer swim spot water quality testing programme.

The Northland Regional Council (NRC) testing looks for bacteria used to gauge the risks of contracting gastrointestinal and other infections while using beaches, rivers and lakes for swimming, water sports and other forms of recreation.

Council chairman Bill Shepherd says testing will resume on Monday 03 December and run until Monday, 04 March next year. 

Hundreds of samples will be taken from 46 popular coastal sites and 14 freshwater locations across the region with results posted on the ‘Can I Swim Here?’ section on the national environmental reporting website LAWA – www.lawa.org.nz

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

“We let the health board and relevant district council know of any results showing elevated bacterial levels, typically within 48 hours, and it’s their responsibility to take any further action needed,” Chairman Shepherd says. 

This 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. 

Chairman Shepherd says last summer 88.7 percent (571 out of 644) samples at coastal sites and 56.6 % (111 out of 196) samples at freshwater sites over summer met national ‘guideline values’, meaning they were considered suitable for swimming.

“Results can vary quite considerably from year to year, largely due to whether we experience a dry or relatively wet summer.  Last year we had a wetter summer and this was reflected in our results, which were generally worse than normal, especially for coastal sites.”

He says in contrast, during the drier summer-before-last (2016/17), 99.8 percent (642 out of 643) samples at coastal sites and 92.9% (169 out of 182) samples at freshwater sites over summer met the guideline values. 

Chairman Shepherd says the council advises people not to swim for two or three days after heavy rain, which can carry run-off from land, or if there are warning signs indicating unsafe water.

“As a rule of thumb, don’t swim if the water looks dirty or murky, smells or has scum on its surface and look out for or consider any potential sources of contamination, both nearby and upstream.” 

Chairman Shepherd says water quality concerns can be reported to council’s freephone 24/7 Environmental Hotline on (0800) 504 639.