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Annual Tests Begin at Popular North Swim Spots

Date: 03 December, 2007

Annual Tests Begin at Popular North Swim Spots

Summer water quality tests to check whether some of Northland’s most popular beaches and rivers are suitable for swimming are underway again.

Bruce Howse, Coastal Monitoring Team Leader for the Northland Regional Council, says most of the time, the region’s popular beach and river spots are suitable for recreational uses, including swimming, water skiing, windsurfing and kayaking.

“But from time to time – especially after heavy rain - some do become contaminated with bacteria. Raised levels of these bacteria indicate an increased risk of people contracting gastrointestinal (‘tummy bug’) or respiratory (‘cold’) illnesses, as well as possible skin, eye or ear infections.”

Mr Howse says the Regional Council has been monitoring bacterial levels at popular summer swim spots since the late 1990s and typically carries out 12 weeks of sampling from early December to mid-February.

He says hundreds of samples will be taken around Northland over the next few weeks, however, 18 popular spots had been removed from the monitoring programme this year.

“This is because the constantly low bacterial levels recorded at these sites for several years means they are suitable for swimming most of the time, although people need to bear in mind that bacterial levels can still increase after heavy rain.”

In contrast, another four sites with consistently high bacterial levels over the same period had been deemed unsuitable for swimming at any time and also been removed from the summer monitoring programme. The sites are:

- Langs Beach Stream, Bream Bay (southern end by toilets)

- Ocean Beach Stream, Whangarei Heads

- Otiria Stream, Moerewa

- Wairoa Stream, Ahipara

Mr Howse says the “very poor” water quality at all four sites means they should have permanent warning signs erected and people should avoid contact with water in those areas.

Although the four sites had been removed from the summer testing regime, the Regional Council planned to further investigate them independently of the programme.

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

In general, people would be wise to avoid swimming or gathering shellfish from such areas for several days after heavy rain.

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

Meanwhile, Mr Howse says results from the summer monitoring programme will be posted weekly on the NRC’s website www.nrc.govt.nz/swimming and are also forwarded regularly to the relevant District Council and Northland Health.

“It then becomes the responsibility of the region’s three District Councils and Northland Health to follow up any elevated results. They may then decide on further investigations or public health warnings.”


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