The Recreational Bathing Water Quality Programme is a joint project between the Regional Council, the Northland District Health Board (DHB) and the three District Councils - Far North (FNDC), Kaipara (KDC) and Whangarei (WDC). The aim of the programme is to provide information on how safe the water is for swimming at the most popular freshwater and coastal swimming spots in Northland.

In Northland, swimming sites - particularly those in freshwater or with a freshwater input (such as estuaries) - are not always safe for swimming. Water can sometimes be contaminated with human or animal waste, particularly after heavy or prolonged rainfall. This ‘effluent' contains large numbers of illness-causing organisms and swimming in contaminated water can lead to skin, eye and ear infections, and stomach and respiratory illness.

From November 2008 to February 2009, 19 freshwater and 43 coastal swimming sites were monitored through the programme. Water samples were taken from each site once a week and analysed in a laboratory for pollution-indicating bacteria. Each site was then given a weekly grading based on the results, indicating the sites suitability for swimming.

Sites were graded as ‘green' for safe, ‘amber' for caution or ‘red' for unsafe. These gradings, along with bacterial counts, were displayed on the Council website at the end of each week –

Results were also forwarded at the end of each week to the DHB and District Councils. The District Councils and DHB take action for any ‘caution' or ‘unsafe' results, either by undertaking further investigative sampling or by erecting public warning signs.