Pollution signs are damaging

22:45, Jan 28 2014
Warning sign
A sign which has appeared alongside the Central Otago Rail Trail warning of polluted water.

Notices declaring the river beside the Central Otago Rail Trail is too polluted to swim in ''damages our clean, green image and tourism reputation'', Green Party water spokesperson Eugenie Sage says.

Otago Regional Council (ORC) water quality sampling recently found high levels of E. coli (an indicator of faecal contamination) at more than five times safe level for human health.''More intensive farming and weak rules increases the risk of more faecal contamination of our rivers, making them unsafe for swimming as is happening in Otago's Upper Taieri River,'' Ms Sage says.

''Having notices declaring that the river beside our best known cycle trail, the Central Otago Rail Trail, is too polluted to swim in damages our clean green image and our tourism reputation ... we shouldn't have to put up signs saying our rivers are unsafe for swimming.''

An ORC report from 2012 identified a lack of stock exclusion, dead stock in waterways and irrigation runoff as causes of water quality issues in the Upper Taieri river, she said.

ORC erected warning signs at popular swimming holes after sampling on January 13 showed E.coli levels at 1500/100ml.

Government water quality guidelines for recreational swimming areas are that, those with less than 260 E.coli/100ml should be safe, whereas water with more than 550 E.coli/100ml poses a health-risk.


ORC director of engineering, hazards, and science Gavin Palmer said the latest sampling of water quality in the Taieri River near Waipiata indicated previously high concentrations of E.coli bacteria had dropped to low levels (about 260 cfu/100ml).

However, people considering swimming in the affected area between Waipiata township and the Creamery Road bridge should hold off in the meantime pending further testing.

''ORC staff are continuing to monitor water quality in the area, but remain baffled as to the cause of the high levels despite extensive inspection,'' he said.

''Warning signs put up at popular swimming spots would stay in place until at least two more weekly rounds of sampling confirmed the water was safe for people to swim in.'' 

Maniototo councillor Barrie Wills said he hoped publicity on the exceedance would only have a minimal impact on visitors to the region, most of whom are only here for a short stay.  

''However, it should be a warning signal to locals, particularly the rural community, of the negative environmental effects that intensification of land use is capable of causing, and will certainly cause in the future as more pastoral units convert to dairying in the Maniototo, Ida and Manuherikia valleys.''

As the district plan review progressed he hoped to see increased co-operation between the district and regional councils to ensure similar problems were avoided in future. 

Mr Palmer said the Government was seeking public feedback on its proposed bottom lines for water quality and its changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

''The Taieri River is another example of why the Government needs to strengthen its proposed national bottom line so that our rivers are clean and safe for swimming, not just wading and boating as the Government proposes.

''It should be compulsory that regional councils manage land use so that we can swim in our rivers; not something that's optional as the Government wants.''

''The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has made it very clear that our rivers and lakes are paying the price for agricultural intensification. We need strong rules to protect our rivers and improve water quality so they are safe for swimming.''

Medical officer of health Derek Bell said anyone experiencing symptoms such as vomiting and/or diarrhoea from having swum in or swallowed contaminated water should contact their GP.

To find out when the water is safe to swim in, contact ORC or visit orc.govt.nz


The Mirror