Coogee Beach among NSW swimming spots with 'poor' water quality amid La Niña . floods

Twice the number of sites hit by levels of pollution and waste since 2019, the government report found

One in five swimming spots in New South Wales was rated as having "poor" or "very bad" pollution levels, including Sydney's popular Coogee beach, after the state experienced its wettest summer in a decade.

Twice the number of beaches, lakes and lagoons have been exposed to alarming levels of pollution and waste since 2019, according to an annual report on the state of the coast released by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

Eighty percent of swimming sites have a "good" or "very good" pollution rating. However, a number of popular beaches are said to have poor water quality due to heavy rainfall and floodwaters that inundate waterways.

These include Sydney's Coogee and Rose Bay beaches, Terrigal and Toowoon Bay beaches on the central coast, the main Woolgoolga and Emerald beaches on the north central coast, and Caseys and Surf beaches on the south coast.

A view on a heavily flooded street in Lismore. There were several small boats transporting people to safety, and a group of authorities and rescuers waiting by the water's edge to help them. Cars line up on the side of the road that doesn't flood

With another La Niña underway, experts warn Australia's east coast remains high risk

Coogee Baths, Rose Bay, as well as Northbridge and Bayview were among those downgraded to "poor" after being rated as having "adequate" or "good" water quality in last year's report.

The director of the Australian Graduate School of Engineering, Prof Stuart Khan, said the results were worrying but not surprising after such heavy rains.

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"We have some beaches that are underperforming, not necessarily the ones we weren't expecting but that's not what we wanted to see," Khan said. “You do tend to see worse performance after a long period of rain.” Khan said Coogee was more prone to pollution than other beaches because it was covered in and had large rainwater pipes going into it.

The beach received a "poor" rating in 2016 after a "substantial" leak of raw sewage into the water when tree roots blocked a pipe on Dudley Street. But Khan says it's a different story in Terrigal, which often has poor water quality because it doesn't drain well due to its proximity to the lagoon.

"If there's rainwater runoff into the lagoon or leaky gutters or septic tanks in that area, you're going to get high concentrations of bacteria in the lagoon," he said. “Many such rivers and estuaries and lagoons will have an impact on local coastal water quality.”

The annual report provides an overview of water quality at 214 swimming sites across the state, which is monitored under the NSW government's Beachwatch and Beachwatch Partnership program.

Assessors take samples from the sea coast once a week throughout the year and from the estuary or harbor coast once a week between October and April and then between May and September.

A poor rating means the site is “prone to fecal pollution and microbial water quality is not always suitable for swimming”.

Enterococci, bacteria found in the human gut, are what assessors look for when testing seawater. Swimming in polluted water can cause infection, gastroenteritis, and hepatitis A.

Beachwatch advises at these locations that you should “ensure that the swimming area is free of signs of pollution, such as discolored water, odors or dirt in the water, and avoid swimming at all times during and up to three days after it rains”. About 94% of the state's 123 seashores were rated as "good" or "excellent", according to the report.

Many swimming locations in estuaries, lakes and lagoons don't perform as well as ocean shores because they are more susceptible to the effects of wet weather, data shows. The environment minister, James Griffin, said the state's beaches were only performing slightly worse than last year, "despite the wettest summer in a decade and Sydney's wettest year on record".

"With more than 85% of people in NSW living within 50km of the coast, going to the local swimming pool is a way of life for many of us," he said. “We know how important it is to put trust in the NSW community, which is why we announced in the NSW budget that we are expanding the Beachwatch Partnership program by $18.5 million over 10 years.”

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