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Annual Testing Of Popular Swim Spots Begins

Date: 27 November, 2008

Annual Testing Of Popular Swim Spots Begins

Water quality tests to determine how safe Northland’s most popular beaches and rivers are for swimming are under way again.

The Northland Regional Council has been monitoring bacterial levels at popular summer swimming spots for the past decade, typically carrying out 12 weeks of sampling from around early December to mid-February.

Riaan Elliot, the Council’s Monitoring Senior Programme Manager, says hundreds of samples will be taken from about 40 coastal and 20 freshwater sites around Northland over the next few weeks.

Mr Elliot says previous testing shows most of Northland’s popular beach and river spots are suitable for recreational uses, including swimming, water skiing, windsurfing and kayaking.

However, he says heavy rain or environmental incidents like sewage spills can see water quality fall below acceptable limits for recreational use, with raised bacteria levels posing health risks.

“Increased bacterial levels can mean a higher risk of people contracting stomach bug or cold-like illnesses, as well as possible skin, eye or ear infections.”

Mr Elliot says both coastal and freshwater areas can be contaminated by a variety of sources, including sewage, septic tank seepage, discharges from boats, urban stormwater, run-off from farmland and stock in waterways.

Most sites surveyed last year will be tested again this summer. Additionally, some sites dropped from last year’s programme (most because they had had constantly low bacterial levels) will be tested again this year to ensure the Council’s records are up to date.

Results from the monitoring programme will be posted weekly on the Council’s website at www.nrc.govt.nz/swimming with the first results due early next week (subs: week beginning 01 Dec).

Mr Elliot says results are also forwarded regularly to District Councils and the Northland District Health Board.

He says the District Health Board (DHB) is also informed of any results showing elevated bacterial levels within 24 hours.

“It then becomes the responsibility of the DHB and the region’s three District Councils to take action. This can include further site investigations to establish the source of contamination, public warnings not to swim or gather shellfish or erection of permanent warning signs at the worst sites.”

Mr Elliot says people unsure about water quality in their area should avoid swimming or gathering shellfish for several days after heavy rain, even if a site has been graded as safe earlier in the week.

“A useful rule of thumb is that if the water is murky and you can’t see your feet when it’s knee deep, it may be contaminated and unsafe for swimming.”


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