Recreational water

Community and Public Health is involved with the quality of coastal waters and freshwater waterways which are used for a range of recreational activities such as swimming, sailing, boating, surfing, water skiing, underwater diving and shellfish gathering.

The quality of recreational water is an important environmental health and resource management issue.

Health Risks Associated with Contaminated Water

Healthy Water means Fun in the Water Water can be contaminated by human or animal excreta containing disease causing micro-organisms such as viruses, bacteria and protozoa.

Contamination poses a health hazard when the water is used for recreational activities such as swimming and other high contact water sports.

There is a risk that water will be swallowed, inhaled or come into contact with ears, nasal passages, mucous membranes or cuts in the skin, allowing pathogens or algal toxins to enter the body.

The symptoms of exposure to contaminated water are usually minor and short lived, however there is the potential for more serious diseases including hepatitis A, giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis.

Health Risks associated with Algal Blooms

Algal blooms are appearing more frequently in our waterways. Algal blooms in lakes can be blue/green in colour floating on the surface or colourless globules suspended in the water.

Algal blooms are also found in rivers as blackish benthic mat-forming cyanobacteria clinging to rocks or collecting at the riverbank. Some cyanobacteria species are known to produce toxins.

Symptoms of exposure to toxic algae can range from allergic reactions, asthma, eye irritations, and rashes to rapid onset of nausea and diarrhoea to gastroenteritis to other specific effects such as liver damage and possibly developing cancers.

Health Risks associated with Mahinga kai

Water containing micro-organisms, chemicals, phytoplankton or cyanobacteria can pose a risk to health through recreational contact, drinking and gathering Mahinga kai.

Mahinga kai species associated with water are fish (including tuna and inanga), kanakana shellfish (such as mussels, oysters, scallops, tuangi and tuatua) as well as seaweed and watercress.

Responsibility for Monitoring Water Quality

Always read the signs.Regional councils like Environment Canterbury coordinate the monitoring of the various sites throughout our region and inform Community and Public Health and the territorial local authority (TLA) if contamination levels present a potential health risk.

The Territorial Local Authority places warning signs to inform the public where a health risk is identified, and takes steps to remove the contamination if possible.

Community and Public Health supports the TLAs in advising the public of the risk and ensuring that they deal with the contamination appropriately.



Download or order resources from the Community Health Information Centre.


Contact your local CPH office for further information:

Ph: +64 3 364 1777
Fax: +64 3 379 6125

Ph: +64 3 687 2600
Fax: +64 3 688 6091

Ph: +64 3 768 1160
Fax: +64 3 768 1169

For additional information or to report water pollution, contact:

Environment Canterbury Pollution Hotline
Ph: 03 3664 663 or
0800 765 588

West Coast Pollution Hotline
Ph: 0508 800 118

Toxic algae present in some Canterbury waterways

Updated 18th November 2017

All recreational water users are being reminded to avoid contact with some Canterbury waterways.

Potentially toxic algae is currently present in the following locations in the region:

  • Lake Rotorua (Kaikoura) – this is a permanent warning

Find out more about the public health risks of toxic algal blooms [PDF].

Visit the Environment Canterbury website for more information. Routine monitoring of waterways during the summer will begin shortly.

Warning against whitebaiters using detergent

Environment Canterbury media release: 30th October 2017

Keeping our waterways ‘clean’ does not mean people can squeeze detergent into them. A small number of Canterbury whitebaiters have been found using washing up detergent or cooking oil to help improve water clarity where they are whitebaiting.

Environment Canterbury’s principal surface water scientist, Adrian Meredith, said the fishers approached did not seem to be aware of the consequences of discharging contaminants into the waterway.

“It is actually illegal to add these products into the water and could result in enforcement action, but – more importantly – it could be very harmful to the river ecology and the fish that live there.

“Both detergent and cooking oil impact on aquatic communities. Detergents can promote algal blooms and have a range of negative effects on fish. Cooking oil can coat aquatic organisms in the water and reduce their oxygen intake” he said.

LAWA: Land Air Water Aotearoa.

Page last updated: 21/11/2017

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