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Look Before You Leap When Using Local Waterways This Summer

The waterways and coastal areas of the Bay of Plenty and Lakes region are popular places to visit during summer - but it's a good idea to check out the quality of water before you jump in.

While the water quality is good at many local estuaries, beaches, rivers and lakes, it’s important to know when it’s not safe to help reduce the risk of you and your whānau getting sick.

A number of lakes in the Rotorua area are prone to blooms of blue-green algae that may be toxic and harmful to health. “If the water looks discoloured, smells unusual, or if there is scum or leathery mats of black or brown algae on the surface of lakes or on the beds of rivers, swim or play somewhere else and don’t eat shellfish from the area,” says Dr Lynne Lane, Medical Officer of Health for Toi Te Ora Public Health.

Contact with algal blooms can cause asthma and hayfever attacks in some individuals, as well as skin rashes, stomach upsets, and in some cases neurological effects such as tingling around the mouth, headaches, breathing difficulties and visual problems.

“Algal mats and scum may also accumulate along the shoreline of the lake and so it’s especially important that parents ensure that children avoid contact with these as they may be toxic,” says Dr Lane.

Dogs are particularly at risk and should also be kept away from the shoreline. Elsewhere in New Zealand there have been reported deaths of dogs that have eaten algae on shorelines.

“After heavy rain, recreational water sites are likely to be contaminated from rural and urban run-off. As a precaution, avoid swimming in rivers, streams, lakes or estuaries for at least 48 hours after heavy or prolonged rainfall, even at sites that usually have good water quality."

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“It is also best to avoid swimming and collecting shellfish near pipes or culverts which run down to a waterway, where storm water is discharged, and near wharves and marinas.”

Regional Councils collect water samples weekly or bi-weekly from popular coastal, river and lake recreational sites around the Bay of Plenty and Lakes region during summer. If a site is found to be contaminated, with risk to public health, Toi Te Ora Public Health informs the public by issuing a health warning and the local council erects warning signs.

Current local health warnings and recreational water information can be found through these channels:

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