Beachwatch Partnerhip Pilot Program State of the Beaches 2002-2003 Summary
In June 2000, Premier Carr announced the NSW Government's $11.7 million Coastal Protection Package. This package provides a holistic framework for managing the coastal zone and includes a range of initiatives to ensure that the State's coastal environments are protected for future generations.
The Beachwatch Partnership Pilot Program is a key component of this package. It aims to raise awareness of beach water quality issues, streamline testing along the NSW coast and increase community access to beach water quality information.
This report presents the findings of pilot beach water quality monitoring and reporting programs conducted in partnership with 15 local councils along the NSW Coast. Ten regional councils and five councils in metropolitan Sydney participated in the pilot programs:.
- Regional councils - Ballina Shire Council, Maclean Shire Council, Pristine Waters Council, Coffs Harbour City Council, Bellingen Shire Council, Great Lakes Council, Lake Macquarie City Council, Wyong Shire Council, Shoalhaven City Council and Eurobodalla Shire Council.
- Metropolitan councils - Pittwater Council, Municipality of Hunters Hill, Willoughby City Council, North Sydney Council and Randwick City Council.
The pilot monitoring programs ranged in size from two to 52 sampling locations, and included ocean beaches, freshwater lakes, tidal pools, bays, rivers, lagoons, harbour sites and estuarine sites. Sampling was conducted between 1 October 2002 and 1 July 2003.
Water quality analyses and assessment
Two types of indicator bacteria, faecal coliforms and enterococci, were used to assess recreational water quality in the pilot programs, as recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). These bacteria indicate the possible presence of waterborne pathogens (organisms that pose significant risks to human health).
When local councils considered that other indicators posed potential risks to swimmers, these were included in the pilot programs. Other indicators (algae, pesticides and toxicants) were monitored in only four council areas.
The Australian Guidelines for Recreational Use of Water (NHMRC 1990) were used to assess recreational water quality in the Beachwatch Partnership Pilot Program.
For most councils, insufficient staff to conduct sampling was an ongoing problem over the course of the pilot programs. This meant that monitoring programs were progressively scaled back in some council areas, and in other council areas the sampling frequency was much less than originally anticipated.
Extension of pilot programs
The 2002-03 summer swimming season was particularly dry. Due to the lack of rainfall, insufficient samples were collected to assess the effect of wet weather-related pollution sources on recreational water quality. The pilot programs were extended until the end of July 2003 in all regional council areas except Great Lakes, and in the metropolitan areas of Pittwater and North Sydney.
During the extended period, resources were focused on collecting samples during and immediately after rainfall events.
Overview of findings - regional councils
The findings of the regional council pilot monitoring programs focus on two key areas: guideline compliance and the impact of rainfall on recreational water quality.
Guideline compliance monitoring was undertaken in all regional council areas except Eurobodalla.
In general, a high level of compliance with recreational water quality guidelines was found at ocean beaches. Where compliance was assessed, 55 of the 60 ocean beaches monitored in regional areas passed the guidelines in all months of the 2002-03 summer swimming season.
The five ocean beaches which did not pass swimming guidelines in all months were:
Arrawarra Beach failed in two months of the 2002-03 summer swimming season, while the remaining four beaches failed in only one month.
Lower levels of compliance were generally recorded at estuarine and coastal lake swimming locations. Most of these locations failed in one or more months of the 2002-03 summer swimming seasons.
Several estuarine and coastal lake swimming sites passed the swimming guidelines in all months in which compliance was assessed. Such sites included:
The Serpentine in Ballina Shire Council area
Whiting Beach and Kolora Lake in Maclean Shire Council area
Red Rock Estuary in Pristine Waters Shire Council area
Wyee Point and Swansea in Lake Macquarie Shire Council area
Chain Valley Bay in Wyong Shire Council area.
Estuarine and coastal lake swimming sites that failed in more than half the months where compliance was assessed included:
Lake Cakora in Maclean Shire Council area
all coastal creeks monitored in Coffs Harbour Shire Council area
Tumbi Umbi Creek, Ourimbah Creek and Canton Beach in Wyong Shire Council area.
Compliance at Tumbi Umbi Creek and Ourimbah Creek was particularly poor, with these sites failing in all months.
Response to rainfall
As indicated by the guideline compliance results, bacterial levels remained generally low at the ocean beaches. The 2002-03 summer swimming season was quite dry, with few large or extended wet weather events. Slightly elevated bacterial levels were measured at most beaches after heavy rainfall, although bacterial levels were not indicative of sewage contamination. Until more data is available, swimming at ocean beaches should be avoided for 24 hours after heavy rainfall.
A more significant response to rainfall was recorded at estuarine and coastal lake swimming sites, with elevated bacterial levels generally measured during and after rainfall. Particularly high bacterial levels were recorded at many sites during wet weather, indicating sewage contamination.
As a precaution, swimming in estuaries and coastal lakes should be avoided during and for up to three days after rainfall.
Levels of blue-green algae measured in Lake Ainsworth in the Ballina Shire Council area often exceeded the State Algal Coordinating Committee (SACC, 1999) high alert levels, indicating that contact with the water should be avoided. Previous monitoring in the lake by the council shows this is an ongoing seasonal trend.
Levels of organochlorine and organophosphate-based pesticides measured in Coffs Creek and Woolgoolga Lake in the Coffs Harbour council area were either less than the swimming water quality guidelines or below the laboratory analytical detection limit.
Levels of arsenic and antimony measured at the Sea Lido swimming site in the Bellingen Shire were low, indicating that the disused antimony crushing plant in the catchment had minimal impact on swimming water quality. High levels of both antimony and arsenic were measured in Station Creek.
Overview of findings - metropolitan councils
A condition of grant funding to metropolitan councils was that their work did not duplicate Beachwatch and Harbourwatch monitoring. In general, the metropolitan programs focused on two areas:
assessment of compliance at swimming sites not included in the Beachwatch and Harbourwatch programs
intensive monitoring of existing Beachwatch or Harbourwatch monitoring locations to study the impact of rainfall on swimming water quality.
Pittwater Council's pilot program assessed compliance with swimming water quality guidelines at four locations not included in the Beachwatch or Harbourwatch programs.
A high level of compliance was recorded at the ocean pool at Palm Beach and McCarrs Creek Reserve in Pittwater. A lower level of compliance was measured at two locations in Narrabeen Lagoon. Levels of indicator bacteria at these locations indicated sewage contamination during wet weather.
Samples were also collected at five locations in Pittwater to assess the impact of wet weather sources of pollution on swimming water quality. Elevated bacterial levels were recorded in response to rainfall and generally remained high for 48 hours after rainfall. Based on these data, swimming in the vicinity of Scotland Island should be avoided for at least two days after rain.
Municipality of Hunters Hill
This pilot program aimed to determine whether a range of new and disused swimming locations in lower Lane Cove River and lower Parramatta River were suitable for swimming. Samples were collected in response to rainfall events. On some occasions, samples were also analysed for toxicants to assess the impact of urban stormwater runoff on swimming water quality.
At the six sites monitored in lower Lane Cove River, the seven sites monitored in lower Parramatta River and the single site monitored in Port Jackson, bacterial levels were generally low during dry weather conditions. Elevated bacterial levels were measured in response to rainfall, indicating wet weather sewage contamination.
Elevated levels of aluminium and iron were also measured during wet weather at some sites.
Based on the findings of the study, water quality around the Hunters Hill peninsular is suitable for swimming during dry weather conditions. However, due to the limited amount of data collected, additional sampling should be conducted to confirm this finding. Based on data from the Harbourwatch Program, swimming in this area of the harbour should be avoided during and for at least three days after rainfall.
Willoughby City Council
Willoughby City Council conducted intensive monitoring in and around Northbridge Baths, a site included in the Harbourwatch Program. The aim of the monitoring was to more accurately define when swimming should be avoided in the baths. This information can be used to derive a notification protocol and closure policy for the baths.
Samples were collected from eleven locations in and around the baths during rainfall and on days following rainfall until water quality returned to dry weather levels.
This study found that swimming in Northbridge Baths should be avoided for at least one day after rainfall of 10-20 mm in 72 hours, and avoided for at least two days after rainfall of more than 20 mm in 72 hours.
North Sydney Council
North Sydney Council monitored water quality in MacCallum Pool and the embayment from which water for the pool is drawn, Shell Cove. Samples were collected during and after rainfall to assess the impact of wet weather on swimming water quality.
Bacterial levels in the pool and in Shell Cove displayed little response to rainfall and indicated that water quality was suitable for swimming 24 hours after rainfall. However, due to the limited data collected under the study, additional sampling was recommended to confirm this finding.
Randwick City Council
Randwick City Council's pilot program assessed compliance with swimming water quality guidelines at two locations not included in the Beachwatch Program: Little Bay Beach North and Little Bay Beach South.
Compliance at Little Bay Beach South was high, with levels of indicator bacteria complying with swimming guidelines in all seven months of the 2002-03 summer swimming season. Bacterial levels measured at this site were generally low, providing little evidence of sewage contamination.
A lower level of compliance was measured at Little Bay Beach North, which passed swimming guidelines in only four of the seven months. Elevated levels of enterococci were measured on several occasions in response to rainfall.
Quality assurance and quality control procedures were incorporated into all aspects of the 14 pilot monitoring programs, including:
The results of these assessments indicated that councils collected samples according to procedures, the microbiological data was reliable and information reported to the community during the pilot programs was accurate.
There are three appendixes to this report:
- Appendix A details the indicators and guidelines used to assess recreational water quality
- Appendix B outlines monitoring strategies and priority evaluation methods employed by local councils
- Appendix C lists further reading and information sources. It is intended to point the reader towards other information relating to both bacterial pollution of waterways used for recreation, and human health risks.
A list of references and a glossary are also provided at the end of the report.
The format and structure of Beachwatch Partnership Pilot Program State of the Beaches 2002-03 may have been adapted for web delivery.
The report was reviewed by the Beachwatch Advisory Committee:
~Bernard Carlon (Chairperson), Department of Environment and Conservation ~ Rex Campbell, Surfrider Foundation ~ Graham Cassidy, Australian Professional Surfers Association ~ Paul Byleveld, NSW Department of Health ~ Phil Colman, Sydney Coastal Councils Group ~ David Harrison, Australian Yachting Federation ~ Patricia Harvey, Sydney Coastal Councils Group ~ Colin Huntingdon, Total Catchment Management ~ Colin Lennox, Oz Green (representing the Nature Conservation Council)
For technical information about this report contact:
Beachwatch, Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW)
59-61 Goulburn St, Sydney
PO Box A290, Sydney South NSW 1232
Phone: (02) 9995 5344
Fax: (02) 9995 5913
Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW)
59-61 Goulburn St
Sydney NSW 2000
PO Box A290
Sydney South NSW 1232
Phone: 131 555 (NSW only - publications and information requests)
(02) 9995 5000 (switchboard)
Fax: 9995 5999
TTY: (02)9211 4723
Beachwatch Partnership Pilot Program State of the Beaches 2002-03
Size: 297 mm x 210 mm (A4)
Length: 90 pp + cover
ISSN: 1 74137 0647
Published: June 2004
This publication was printed on recycled paper.
Disclaimer: The EPA has compiled the information in this publication in good faith, exercising all due care and attention. No representation is made as to its accuracy, completeness or suitability for any particular purpose. Readers should seek appropriate advice as to the suitability of the information for their particular needs.
Copyright: Beachwatch Partnership Pilot Program State of the Beaches 2002-03 is copyright, however the Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW) is pleased to allow the reproduction of material from this publication on the condition that the source, publisher and authorship are appropriately acknowledged.
Page last updated: 26 February 2011