Water quality across the State’s inland waterways is to be measured and publicly reported on with the Department of Planning and Environment’s (DPE) Beachwatch set to expand the program.
Manager, Beachwatch Programs at DPE, Meredith Campey said Beachwatch was originally set up in 1989 in response to community concern about sewage washing up on Sydney’s beaches.
Dr Campey said the program had gradually expanded along the State’s coast and cemented a reputation as a trusted source of information.
She said that in recent years demand for the service had grown, peaking with the floods earlier this year as people sought information about whether it was safe to return to the water.
“The expansion is to meet the increasing community demand for information on safe local swim sites,” Dr Campey said.
“This was really highlighted during the recent pandemic and the lockdowns where people were looking for activities close to where they live,” she said.
“It’s also about delivering the benefits of a program, equally and equitably, so we are moving from the coastal-based Beachwatch program to include inland waterways and river systems.”
Dr Campey said Beachwatch would expand its water monitoring program to cover the whole State, and local councils could now opt-in to take part.
She said rainfall was one of the biggest drivers of poor water quality, generating stormwater and triggering discharges from the wastewater system but the new sites would also bring new water quality challenges.
“Each site has its own particular characteristics which determine the suitability for swimming,” the Manager said.
“We assess potential risks including pollution, physical hazards and safe access,” she said.
“When looking for signs of pollution, we are testing water for microbes as an indicator of faecal contamination.”
Dr Campey said swimming in polluted waters could expose swimmers to a number of dangers such as untreated sewage that carried viruses or bacteria, causing illness like gastroenteritis, or eye, ear and skin infections.