When is it safe to swim in the Derwent River?

On 2 January the media widely promoted that the trans-Derwent swim had been relocated to Seven Mile Beach because of concerns over stormwater pollution in the Derwent. It was warm enough for a swim and I wanted to know if the cancellation of this race meant all beaches around the Derwent estuary were unsafe? The Derwent Estuary Program's 'Beach Watch' web page announced on 30 December 2016 that: 'Following recent heavy rain, water quality at most Derwent beaches has been poor - including at Howrah, Bellerive, Kingston, Blackmans Bay and Nutgrove/Little Sandy Bay.

Swimming in the Derwent is not recommended for several days after heavy rain and never in the vicinity of stormwater drains or urban rivulets.' Even though a few days had passed I decided to not go swimming. Instead I took the dog for a walk to see what information was available at Howrah and Bellerive beaches regarding the water quality. To my surprise the Clarence Council had not followed the DEP's lead and had no up-to-date notices regarding the safety of these beaches for swimming. After much searching I found one small sign at the western end of Bellerive Beach telling me that based on sampling over the past five summers the water quality was fair.

Howrah Beach had three of the same signs and it also was deemed to have fair water quality. The signs included an option of poor where swimming is not recommended. The signs advised that swimming in the Derwent is not recommended for several days after heavy rain and never in the vicinity of stormwater drains or urban rivulets. Predictably, there were numerous people swimming including toddlers and some were swimming close to a storm water drain outlet.

Surely the council could post emergency notices telling people that, based on the DEP water quality testing, swimming is not advised. The existing signs could be made adjustable such as with fire warning signs.The Council does have 16 signs along Bellerive Beach and 6 along Howrah Beach advising of when and where dogs can be walked. During a Hurricanes cricket match the Council had dozens of temporary signs on Bellerive streets telling me where I couldn't park.

Surely Council can afford to put up a few signs advising when it is unsafe for swimming. On the 2 January Melbourne faced a similar but perhaps more severe problem and the response was much more impressive. Media reports stated that the Victorian EPA advised that 21 beaches around Port Phillip Bay were deemed unsuitable for swimming due to contaminated storm water. News stories warned of poo in the water and a risk of gastro. Prominent signs were erected near the water’s edge on some beaches stating 'Swimming prohibited beach closed'.

Peter McGlone Director
Tasmanian Conservation Trust
0406 380 545