Two Otago beaches on 'caution' list

Nick Smith
Nick Smith
Two of Otago's coastal recreation spots are among 14% nationally where water quality is considered to be at high risk for swimming.

Information on the water quality of 350 New Zealand beaches is now available in one place online, a national water quality monitoring site, Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA).

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith said New Zealand beaches generally had good water quality for swimming.

''I want the millions of New Zealanders who go to the beach to swim, surf and play to have access to good information on water quality. It enables people to stay healthy.''

The site rated each beach for its overall recreation risk based on three years of bacteria data.

Of the 350 coastal spots monitored, 64% were rated as having low or very low risk, 22% an acceptable standard and 14% high risk.

Five Otago beaches, all monitored by the Otago Regional Council over summer, were listed on the website including Brighton Beach at Otokia Creek (moderate risk), Kaka Point beach (low risk) and Waikouaiti Estuary (very low risk).

The two in Otago to receive ''caution'' ratings - showing they could at times be high risk (10% or greater chance of illness) - were Kakanui Estuary and Otago Harbour at Macandrew Bay.

The ratings came with the rider that the risk indicator was a ''precautionary approach'' to managing health risk, so a site with a ''caution'' risk could still be suitable for swimming some of the time.

Information on water quality at those spots was also available on the Otago Regional Council's website, which also advised people against swimming during and shortly after rainfall.

Last summer four of the six results where high bacteria levels were found followed at least 10mm of rainfall in the three days before sampling, the council's 2013-14 recreational monitoring report said.

Water quality at Dunedin's popular St Clair and St Kilda beaches was monitored by the Dunedin City Council with results available on its website.

The LAWA website, which was a collaboration between regional councils, Cawthron Institute, Ministry for the Environment and the Tindall Foundation, would also provide weekly beach monitoring data and seasonal indicators.

Local Government New Zealand regional sector group chairwoman Fran Wilde said the response to river data available on the LAWA website had been so far positive.

''It's great to be able to build on the information available and move into the marine environment and we're excited to provide beach information on LAWA in time for summer when our beaches are at their busiest.''

Ms Wilde said work on other environmental indicators for LAWA was ongoing and the website would eventually show information on water quantity, air quality, land and biodiversity, as well as more fresh and coastal water quality data.

LAWA would also contribute to a new national environmental reporting regime the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand were designing.

Dr Smith said the Government would pass a new Environmental Reporting Act through Parliament to expand the quality and quantity of data next year.

''This work is about giving integrity to New Zealand's clean green brand and highlighting areas where communities need to do better in managing water quality.''

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