Swimming – water quality

Water, water everywhere – but will it make you sick?

Key points about swimming and water quality

  • With flooding risks, weather warming up and people hitting beaches, rivers, estuaries and lakes for some much-needed rest and recreation, there is a potential hazard lurking in the water.
  • If you come into contact with dirty or contaminated water it can result in serious illnesses such as tummy bugs, sore throats or skin infections.
  • Here are some tips to help you know whether the water is safe or not.
Swimmers jumping off a pontoon into Lake Wanaka New Zealand
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Land, Air, Water Aotearoa’s(external link)(external link) website monitors water quality around the country and lets you know which spots are safe to swim in. Websites such as Toi Te Ora Public Health(external link)(external link) also provide information about whether it’s safe to collect food such as shellfish in the popular Bay of Plenty and Lakes District region.

However, not every spot can be monitored, or you may not have internet coverage to check online. If that’s the case, here are some ways to help you know whether the water is safe or not:

1. Avoid swimming after heavy rain

Avoid swimming for at least 48 hours after heavy rain. This is because storm water contaminated with sewage can make its way into the sea and other bodies of water and make you sick.

2. Check local signage

Have a look around and see if any signs have been put up by the local council or other organisations warning people not to swim or collect seafood.

3. Be aware of weird smells

If you notice a musty or weird smell, then that may indicate the water is contaminated so don’t go in it.

4. Look out for discolouration

If the water is brown, murky or discoloured then this may also indicate contamination. If a riverbed or rocks are covered in leathery-looking mats or brown algae, then it’s not safe to swim.

5. Stay away from pipes or culverts

Avoid playing, swimming or collecting seafood where storm water is discharged near pipes or culverts that run down towards the waterway and near marinas and wharves.

For more information on water quality, please visit Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA)(external link)(external link) or your local regional council’s website.


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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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