Newsroom - Swimming in a contaminant soup

Auckland's harbours are a "soup of contaminants" according to the people who monitor them, and the new Safeswim scheme just approved by the council isn't going to change that. In fact, it will make the situation at most beaches look worse, because the figures will be more accurate and up to date. 

"Aucklanders are pretty clued up on water quality issues," says Penny Hulse, Auckland Council's Environment and Community Committee Chair. "There's an awful lot of finger-pointing at farmers, but we need to pick up our game," she says. 

Some major stormwater work, particularly by the former North Shore and Waitakere councils, has already been done, she says, but the inner city has been neglected. "It's sewers and beaches, stormwater runoff, paths and transportation, sediment from land runoff - we need to deal with them all.

So cars are our cows?

"I think that's a good t-shirt." 

Mayor Phil Goff says the public will be shocked when they see the figures on faecal contamination. Taken over five years of monitoring fresh and saltwater, the figures charted up look like seas of red warning signs. The coastline measures are of enterococci and fresh water was monitored for E. coli. 

"People will demand to know what we are doing about it," Goff told Tuesday's Environment and Community committee. "Yes, there are solutions - and all will cost money. They are really expensive in total but if you bring it down to a person by person basis it's a small investment that we have to make. We have to be ready to respond, that we have the plans ready to go." He believed people were ready to make the change - by which he meant that they were prepared to pay the extra taxes likely for fixing a multitude of issues "in 21st century Auckland". 

Goff said the new Safeswim system, which will be launched on November 1, will mean Auckland will be the first city in New Zealand that tells people accurately how safe it is to swim at their local beach. It provides real time data using a modelling system and 120 remote sensors placed around overflow systems. It will also let people know of other marine hazards such as shark sightings or jellyfish attacks. It will not result in instant improvements in water quality. 

Penny Hulse said the bottom line is the council just needs to be really upfront with Aucklanders. 

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