What are you swimming in?

A NEW report from the Department of Environment and Climate Change has found that half the swimming spots surveyed on the Coffs Coast are contaminated with potentially life-threatening pathogens.

The Beachwatch Partnership Program is a recreational water monitoring and reporting program run by the NSW Government in conjunction with Coffs Harbour City Council, which tested the water at eleven locations on the Coffs Coast during the 2007-08 summer swimming season.

Six choice swimming spots, including creeks at Bonville, Moonee, Arrawarra and Boambee, as well as Hearns Lake and Woolgoolga Lake, failed the testing due to the presence of waterborne pathogens, which pose significant risks to human health.

The spots in Coffs Harbour were tested for enterococci, an indicator bacterium, and elevated levels indicate the presence of sewage contamination.

Woolgoolga Lake and Hearns Lake recorded very high levels of enterococci in response to rainfall, while Arrawarra, Moonee and Boambee creeks all failed in February 2008 due to elevated levels of enterococci.

The report provides reasons for the fails, including contamination by urban stormwater run-off, domestic animal droppings, effluent from boat discharges, overflows from sewage pumping stations and agriculture run-off.

But Beachwatch also highlights the safest swimming spots, with the ocean beaches of Emerald Beach and the Jetty, Sawtell Rockpool, Red Rock and Coffs Creek passing with flying colours.

Minister for the Environment and Climate Change Carmel Tebbutt said beach water quality was found to be 98 per cent cleaner today than in the early 1990s.

“Despite near record rainfall, our ocean beaches are performing strongly, with more than 60 per cent passing stringent water quality tests 10 days out of 10,” Ms Tebbutt said.

“Of course, the old rule of thumb is to avoid swimming in ocean beaches for a day after rain and harbour locations for up to as many as three days.”

The National Health and Medical Research Council's guidelines for recreational water quality were used in the Beachwatch testing, which provide an indication of the probability of swimmers developing illnesses derived from the water.

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