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Here in Otago we are all proud custodians of our beautiful lakes and rivers. We like to walk beside them, fish in them, take photos of them, share them with guests to our region and at this time of year especially, they're an important part of an Otago summer as we swim, paddle and spend family time in and around them.
We have some of the best water quality in the country, with 79% of our rivers and 98% of our lakes classified as swimmable.
As part of our work to better understand water quality in Otago we significantly increased our state-of-the-environment monitoring programme from 2018. Our seasonal monitoring programme has also been ramped up and more sites are now monitored each week through the summer.
We have set bold new targets recently for swimmability and are aiming for 90% of rivers and 98% of lakes to be swimmable by 2040. This will see our efforts to improve water quality growing as we work hard to achieve these targets in partnership with the wider community.
However, even lakes and rivers with the best water quality may, from time to time, have E. coli concentrations that make them unsuitable for swimming. This is particularly the case after rainy weather, and windy or choppy conditions can exacerbate the issue. E. coli concentrations can also be elevated by animals, including ducks and seagulls - for example, we know from testing that the high concentrations of E. coli in Lake Wakatipu in December were caused by birds. Other causes include stormwater and farm run-off.
To help you know when and where is safe swim, you should first check the "Can I swim here?'' page on the Land, Air, Water Aotearoa website: www.lawa.org.nz/swim. There will always be a delay between when samples are taken and results of the testing, so it's a good idea to take a precautionary approach to keep yourself and your family safe. That means not going in the water after stormy weather, and avoiding water when you can see there are a lot of birds around.
And if you see anything that looks like it could be pollution, call the Pollution Hotline any time of day or night (0800 800-033).
We want everyone in Otago to be able to enjoy our rivers and lakes. With a few precautions, everyone can do so safely.