Media release

Summer swimming spot monitoring under way

Friday 9 December 2016

As the summer season gets underway, the Otago Regional Council (ORC) is beginning its annual programme of weekly monitoring at the beaches, rivers, and lakes where Otago people most like to paddle, swim, and generally enjoy the water.

ORC started taking water quality samples from 17 recreational sites throughout the region from 1 December and will continue until 31 March, ORC director engineering, hazards, and science Dr Gavin Palmer said.

The results are available on the Land Air Water Aotearoa (LAWA) website (

This year, for the first time, the testing results for eight city beaches monitored by the Dunedin City Council will also be available on LAWA.

Monitoring of Pounawea, at the junction of the Catlins and Owaka Rivers, will be a further first for the 2016-17 season – bringing the total number of water spots with regular summer monitoring information available to 25.

Dr Palmer said coastal water is tested for enterococci, while fresh water is tested for Escherichia coli (E. coli). Both of these are bacteria that can cause illness, with the most common sources being rural run-off, sewage, and stormwater.

The test results are compared with national guidelines set by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Health, which apply a three-tier ‘traffic light’ approach to bacteria counts. Green indicates that swimming should be very safe, amber safe, and red a potential health risk.

Whilst noting that the water quality in Otago is generally very good, Dr Palmer said care needed to be taken when swimming after heavy rain.

“If the water looks murky, or there’s been a heavy rainfall event in the previous 24 hours, levels of enterococci and E.coli are likely to be higher, potentially affecting the suitability of the water for swimming,” he said.

Dr Palmer also noted the importance of swimmers being mindful of other potential risks, including cliffs, sunken logs, rocks and trees in rivers, and rips at beaches.

For more information please contact

Dr Gavin Palmer
Director engineering, hazards, and science
Ph 0800 474082 or 0274 933960