Beachwatch: Working with councils

Beachwatch council partnerships, resources to help councils improve beaches and answers to common questions from councils.

The Beachwatch Partnership Program was set up in 2004 to help councils monitor and report on their beaches.

Each September, all coastal councils are invited to partner with Beachwatch as part of this program. Councils have to fully fund the program (collect and analyse samples) and we provide:

  • quality assurance
  • program design assistance
  • data management assistance
  • sample media releases
  • weekly star ratings on the OEH website
  • resources
  • inclusion in the annual State of the Beaches report.

Beachwatch risk-management plan

Beachwatch has developed The Protocol for Assessment and Management of Microbial Risks in Recreational Waters (PDF 697KB), a plan to help councils run their recreational water quality monitoring program. We call it 'The Protocol' and, while intended for use by NSW councils, anyone wanting to start a Beachwatch-style monitoring program can use it.

The Protocol supports the use of Chapter 5 – Microbial Quality of Recreational Water of the National Health and Medical Research Council Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Waters (NHMRC 2008). Sections in The Protocol include:

  • understanding the microbial guidelines
  • site selection
  • sanitary inspection
  • microbial water quality monitoring
  • microbial assessment
  • beach classification, reporting and management.

Training for councils

Beachwatch offers a one-day course on managing water quality. Topics include:

  • the national guidelines
  • pathogens and indicator bacteria
  • sanitary inspections
  • water quality monitoring
  • beach water quality reporting
  • management and incident response plans
  • a talk by an expert speaker.

We have received very positive feedback from attendees of past courses on the usefulness of the content.

If you are interested in attending a course, please contact us.

Beach signage

Beachwatch can’t provide a standard warning sign as each council receives different advice about wording and placement. However, we have put together a photo gallery of signs used by councils to give you some ideas. You should consult your council’s signage policy or legal adviser to help you decide on a sign.

The guidelines have been adopted in all Australian States:

No, the guidelines can be applied to freshwater, river mouth and marine waters. Unlike the previous guidelines, the organism tested for and the limits are the same for all waterways. The NHMRC suggests that this position will be reviewed if data on the causes of disease for freshwater systems becomes available (NHMRC 2008, p. 73, note 5).

It doesn't – not under the latest Australian Standards. Enterococci analysis should be undertaken using the Australian Standard method: AS/NZS 4276.9:2007. This method does not require a confirmation step (unless the plate is crowded) and results are available within 26 hours, much the same as for faecal coliforms.

In NSW, local councils are responsible for the management of public land (Local Government Act 1993), including beaches. The NSW Department of Health has limited powers related to large-scale incidents.

No. Councils receive varying advice on whether signs can be erected and the wording. You should consult your Council's signage policy or legal adviser.

Beachwatch is on the Standards Australia Water Safety Signs and Symbols Committee. It has raised the issue of standardised signage for pollution incidents, but this is not currently on the committee’s agenda.

Possibly, depending on what data is available and site specifics. Contact Beachwatch to discuss the options.

Councils that are part of the program must:

  • select the sites they wish to monitor
  • collect routine water samples
  • have the water samples analysed by a lab
  • test the sampling process and the skills of the laboratory that analyses the sample
  • provide Beachwatch with water quality data.