Health warning lifted at Christchurch beaches but estuary remains off limits

Thursday September 8, 2011

​​The Community and Public Health division of Canterbury District Health Board has lifted the health warning at Christchurch beaches but warnings for the Estuary/Ihutai and the Avon/Otakaro and Heathcote/Opawaho rivers remain in place.

Bacterial monitoring from Environment Canterbury and the Christchurch City Council now show that Christchurch beach water has very low levels of bacteria.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey says Christchurch beaches are now suitable for recreational water use.

“This is great news for those of us who have been avoiding the water following the high levels of contamination,” Dr Humphrey says.

“With summer approaching, those who want to can now get back on or in the water at these locations without the risk of gastro illness.”

Water testing results show faecal bacteria levels at Waimairi Beach, North Beach, New Brighton Beach, South Brighton Beach, Sumner Beach and Scarborough Beach are low and the water is therefore safe to enter, Dr Humphrey says.

It is also important to remember heavy rain washes faecal matter into the sea, so people should avoid the beaches for two days after heavy rainfall, particularly at Scarborough beach, which has a storm water drain at its eastern end.

Unfortunately, there is also sewage still being discharged into rivers running into the estuary and these rivers have been demonstrated by scientists at Environmental Science and Research (ESR) to contain high levels of human pathogens, such as giardia, cryptosporidium, clostridium, campylobacter, E.coli and viruses. This means people should continue to avoid the Estuary/Ihutai and the Avon/Otakaro and Heathcote/Opawaho rivers.

“Even after the sewage discharges cease, as more people return to Christchurch or start to reuse their normal household toilet after using a chemical toilet or port-a-loo for many months, new breaks in the sewerage system may appear as a result of increased waste-water flow on the system. Monitoring of the Avon, Heathcote and the Estuary is unlikely to demonstrate a return to pre-earthquake levels for many months,” Dr Humphrey says.

It is still important not to collect shellfish from anywhere in the area, as sewage borne viruses can live in shellfish for many months.

For more information about recreational water quality visit the Environment Canterbury website: http://ecan.govt.nz/services/online-services/monitoring/Pages/water-contamination-ch​. ​

Page last reviewed: 13 February 2014
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