Good news for summer swim spots

Horizons Regional Council has reported popular swim spots throughout the Region were swimmable for the majority of the 2015-16 summer. 

Horizons conducts weekly water quality monitoring at 26 popular swimming spots from November to April every year. The results of this monitoring were reported at the Council’s June Environment Committee meeting.

Horizons group manager natural resources and partnerships, Dr Jon Roygard, says the term ‘swimmable’ is determined by a number of factors such as bacteria levels, whether cyanobacteria is present, and flow.

“It’s not as simple as making a general comment that a river is swimmable or not - what we are really looking at is how often it is safe to swim. From a Ministry of Health point of view, if the site is under 550 E.coli per 100ml then it should be swimmable,” says Dr Roygard.

“We are pleased to report that most of the Region’s coastal swimming sites were safe to swim for the entire summer. The exceptions, Waikawa and Hokio Beach, were still swimmable 88 to 92 per cent of the time.

“Popular freshwater spots also recorded well with sites such as the Manawatu River at old the Teachers’ College being swimmable nearly 90 per cent of the time. Our reporting also shows that this site is swimmable 78 per cent of the time year round, which is a good result for a river of that size.”

Dr Roygard says the portion of time that swim spots were not suitable for swimming is due to rainfall and high flows.

“During high rainfall bacteria and sediment naturally washes from the land into our river systems. This results in high flows which makes some sites potentially dangerous, and people wouldn’t likely choose to swim during this time."

“The good news is that during the warmer and drier months our reporting shows swimming spots are often well within the Ministry of Health’s swimmable standards.”

Dr Roygard says in addition to reporting on swimmability, the summer monitoring programme provides Council with robust information around where E.coli levels are high in the Region and where they can focus their efforts.

“We realise there is always room for improvement. For example, this summer’s monitoring has identified that further work is required in the Mangahao Catchment so we will carry out further research in this area in the year ahead."

“Work is also underway through initiatives such as the Manawatu River Leaders’ Accord and the Sustainable Land Use Initiative (SLUI) to improve water quality and reduce sediment run off. The Accord alone has contributed over $46 million towards improving water quality.

“A key focus of this work has been improving suitability for swimming by reducing the amount of bacteria getting into the river from discharges and completing stream fencing,” he says.  
The report presented to Horizons Environment Committee is available on the Council’s website for viewing.