Media release

Swimmability of Otago waterways reinforced

Thursday 23 February 2017

The Otago Regional Council today reiterated that the vast majority of waterways in Otago are suitable for swimming from a public health standpoint.

“Otago's lakes, rivers and beaches are highly valued for their recreational opportunities and that's top on mind for ORC when it comes to managing water quality,“ ORC chairman Stephen Woodhead said.

Mr Woodhead was responding to a Government announcement of a target of 90 percent of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers meeting swimmable water quality standards by 2040. The announcement was accompanied by the release of new policy, regulations, information maps, and funding to help achieve this goal.

The swimmability maps released today reflect that the vast majority of Otago’s waterways are suitable for swimming, Mr Woodhead said.

“It is important to note however that the maps are based on modelled data and only show water quality at a moment in time. We encourage people to go to the Land, Air, Water Aotearoa website ( for more accurate and up-to-date information on the suitability of rivers and lakes for swimming,” he said.

LAWA displays weekly monitoring results for 25 beach, rivers and lake sites around Otago throughout summer. The website also provides other water quality and quantity data beyond swimmability and is an excellent resource for those interested in Otago and New Zealand's water.

Recently a new tool “Can I Swim Here?” was added to LAWA to highlight the swimmability data.

ORC has reviewed the Ministry for the Environment’s mapping of Lake Wanaka’s swimmability and its assessment of the lake being below that of Lakes Hawea and Wakatipu, and it does not align with the council’s actual monitoring data.

All data collected to date shows Lake Wanaka’s swimmability to be comparable to Lakes Wakatipu and Hawea. There is also no known instance of high cyanobacteria biovolumes in these lakes, and recent monitoring of the phytoplankton community supports this.

Mr Woodhead said that although the maps showed Otago’s waterways to be in a good way, there was still room for improvement in some places.

“We have a Water Plan in place which is designed to maintain water quality where it is good and improve it where needed.”

Landholders must meet discharge limits for pollutants such as E.coli, nitrogen, and phosphorus by 2020. They are working now to understand the impact their land management activities have on water quality on their properties and what actions they can take to reduce or eliminate this impact.

ORC is also reviewing its urban water quality regulations to consider what improvements can be made to minimise the adverse impact of discharges from urban and industrial sources on water quality.

Part of the Government’s announcement today also included proposed national regulations regarding stock exclusion from waterways.

Mr Woodhead said while ORC supports the principle behind stock exclusion and the new Government requirement for additional fencing of waterways, in that this aims to reduce contaminants in waterways, the implications need to be fully understood before the council can determine whether they are feasible.

“Some fencing may create adverse effects, including from construction earthworks. There are challenges in areas of high rainfall which experience flooding several times a year, including in locations with outstanding natural features and landscapes such as Otago’s high country and the catchment headwaters which feed our alpine lakes,” he said.

“We will be submitting on the proposed regulations to ensure are they are workable,” Mr Woodhead said.

For further information contact

Stephen Woodhead
Ph 027 2801635