Weekly sam­ples mon­i­tor wa­ter safety

Have you ever seen a he­li­copter hov­er­ing low over the wa­ter at the beach? Chances are it’s the coun­cil wa­ter qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing team. Reporter Karina Abadia found out more about the work they do.

Central Leader - - NEWS -

No-one likes to think they’re swim­ming in pol­luted waters. Thank­fully there is a team of peo­ple mak­ing sure that doesn’t hap­pen.

The wa­ter qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing pro­gramme Safeswim, set up in 1999, runs for 21 weeks an­nu­ally from the first week of Novem­ber to the end of March.

More than 95 per cent of wa­ter sam­ples col­lected in the re­gion com­ply with Min­istry for the En­vi­ron­ment guide­lines, Auck­land Coun­cil en­vi­ron­men­tal health prin­ci­pal spe­cial­ist Sharon Tang says.

‘‘Most of our beaches in­clud­ing the east­ern beaches are quite safe to swim.

‘‘But we do have some rare oc­ca­sions where there is a failed re­sult.’’

Ev­ery Tues­day sam­ples are taken from 63 Auck­land beaches and six fresh­wa­ter sites, mostly by he­li­copter.

This makes sense in terms of con­sis­tency and time­li­ness as ev­ery­thing can be done on one day, Ms Tang says.

The sam­ples are an­a­lysed at Water­care and re­sults re­turned to Safeswim within 24 hours. Water­care looks at en­te­ro­cocci bac­te­ria lev­els in sea wa­ter.

The min­istry de­fines the alert level as 140 en­te­ro­cocci to 100ml of wa­ter. If a test shows a read­ing be­tween 140 and 280 en­te­ro­cocci, fur­ther test­ing is car­ried out un­til the re­sults re­turn to nor­mal.

When two con­sec­u­tive lev­els are more than 280, signs are put up at the beach ad­vis­ing peo­ple not to swim.

But if the ini­tial read­ing is above 1000, signs are put up straight­away, she says.

There have been a cou­ple of in­ci­dents this month at cen­tral Auck­land beaches.

Signs went up at Judges Bay for a cou­ple of days last week af­ter test­ing re­vealed a read­ing of 1800 en­te­ro­cocci.

Swim­ming was not ad­vised at Mis­sion Bay on Jan­uary 8 af­ter a read­ing of 3000 en­te­ro­cocci was recorded.

The lev­els were back to nor­mal within two days.

Re­gional and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­trol man­ager Mar­cus Her­rmann says there are var­i­ous po­ten­tial causes of con­tam­i­na­tion.

‘‘There can be over­flows that oc­cur from the waste­water sys­tem into the stormwa­ter sys­tem; there can be il­le­gal dis­charges from boats and you can also get an­i­mal ef­flu­ent from pets, birds and ducks.’’

Some ad­vice to swimmers is gen­er­ally not to swim 24 to 48 hours af­ter heavy rain, take care not to swim too close to out­falls and check the Safeswim web­site for up­dates.

Wa­ter test­ing: The Safeswim team use a he­li­copter to take weekly wa­ter sam­ples at beaches around Auck­land to test for bac­te­ria.

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