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Environment

Discover how we are protecting the Gold Coast's natural environment - our spectacular beaches, hinterland ranges, bushland and waterways - and how you can help.

Recreational water quality

Caution - rainwater affects recreational water quality

Some swimming areas may have been affected by pollution from stormwater run-off due to the recent heavy rainfall across the Gold Coast.

Residents are reminded that rainfall often collects pollutants from streets, gardens and farms, before it is flushed into our ocean and rivers via the storm water system. Stormwater run-off can increase pathogen levels in the water and make it unsafe for swimming. Popular swimming locations, such as swimming enclosures, rivers, lakes, creeks and beaches – particularly those near stormwater outlets – are sometimes affected.

As a precaution always avoid swimming:

  • one (1) day after heavy rainfall at open beaches
  • three (3) days after heavy rainfall at river and estuarine locations
  • in water that looks discoloured, murky, or smells unpleasant
  • near stormwater drains.

The City will continue to monitor sites across the Gold Coast.

Healthy Waterways

Healthy Waterways

The Gold Coast's rivers, estuaries and beaches are our natural playground, enjoyed by millions of users every year for swimming, boating, fishing, surfing and wildlife-watching. Keeping them healthy is good for the environment and essential for our city, our tourism and our lifestyle.

City of Gold Coast is committed to managing and caring for our waterways. From time to time however, the quality of our waterways can change which can potentially affect the health of its users.

There is a strong link between rainfall events and the health of our waterways. Rainfall often collects pollutants from streets, gardens and farms, before it is flushed into our ocean and rivers via the storm water system. As a result, pathogens (bacteria, viruses and parasites) have an increased likelihood of being transported into our waterways from the catchment.

It is not possible to know the exact levels of pathogens or microbial pollution in a given waterway at all times, and the results from waterway monitoring only indicate the levels present at the time the sample was taken. It takes a minimum of 24 hours to obtain results by which time the microbial pollution may no longer be present.

Tips to help you decide when to enter a waterway

Avoid swimming after rainfall

Rainfall often collects pollutants from streets, gardens and farms, before it is flushed into our creeks, rivers and oceans via the storm water system. Stormwater runoff can increase bacterial levels in the water and make it unsafe for swimming.

As a precaution avoid swimming during and:

  • one day after heavy rainfall at open beaches
  • three days after heavy rainfall at river and estuarine locations.

Avoid swimming near stormwater drains

Stormwater is rain or water that runs off roofs, roads and footpaths into the nearest creek, river or waterway. Stormwater is not treated before it enters our waterways and often contains pollutants which can make our waterways unsafe for human contact.

Do not swim in water that looks discoloured, murky, or smells unpleasant

Look out for the visual indicators of pollution before entering waterways including discoloured or strong smelling water, and floating litter or debris. Also check for visual signs of algae blooms such as discolouration and/or floating scum.

Always follow advice on water quality

When pollution is detected in a water body, information will be posted on this website and health warning signs may be installed to alert the public not to use the water. Always follow this advice and do not go swimming.

Avoid swimming if you have an open wound or infection

If you have an open wound or infection and go swimming in water that is polluted, your infection may worsen. Reduce your risk and do not swim.

Everyone has an impact on the health of our waterways. Listed below are some of the effective ways that you can reduce the impacts of pollution.

Use appropriate toilet facilities

Make sure you use proper toilet facilities when you need to go to the toilet. Take your children to the toilet regularly. Do not put yourself or others' health at risk by using our natural waterways as a toilet.

Dispose of animal waste appropriately

You can help reduce the volume of contaminants that wash into our waterways by picking up after your pets. It is also important that agricultural animals, such as cattle are prevented from directly accessing waterways.

Dispose of human waste hygienically when boating

It is important that you dispose of your toilet waste safely and away from areas where people go swimming. Follow advice from Maritime Safety Queensland on waste disposal from boats.

Dispose of rubbish correctly

Ensure that you take your rubbish with you and it is disposed of appropriately. If rubbish is dropped on the ground, it can be washed into the stormwater system and then end up in out natural waterways.

For more information read the frequently asked questions below and attached information sheets. 

Jump to key information
  • How does rainfall affect water quality?

    Rainfall often collects pollutants from streets, gardens and farms, before it is flushed into our ocean and rivers via the storm water system. As a result, pathogens (bacteria, viruses and parasites) have an increased likelihood of being transported into our waterways from the catchment.  Heavy rainfall can also increase the risk of sewage entering waterways as a result of flooding and overflow from the sewerage network. 

  • What is microbial pollution?

    A microbe is a tiny life form or microscopic organism that cannot be seen by the human eye. Microbial pollution is the presence of harmful microbes in waterways at levels which can produce undesirable effects to human health. Microbes occur naturally within our waterways and usually pose little risk to a healthy person. Risks to human health only occur when disease causing microbes are present in high numbers.

  • What is a pathogen?

    Some microbes are also harmful pathogens. Human pathogens are microbes that can cause infectious disease and can be harmful to humans. Bacteria, viruses and parasites are all examples of pathogens. Pathogens can be present in water and are usually associated with human and animal faeces.

  • What are the symptoms of illness associated with pathogens?

    Exposure to pathogens in waterways can occur through direct contact with polluted water during recreation, accidental ingestion of polluted water, or the inhalation of small water droplets.

    Polluted water can cause a variety of gastrointestinal diseases, collectively known as gastroenteritis. Symptoms of gastroenteritis may include vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach-ache, nausea and headaches. Diseases and conditions affecting the eyes, ears, skin and the upper respiratory tract can also be contracted when certain pathogens come into contact with broken skin or the delicate membranes in the ear, nose, and lungs. Refer to Table 1 for some common illnesses associated with pathogens.

    Table 1: Pathogens, illnesses and symptoms

    Pathogen Some illnesses and symptoms
    Bacteria (e.g. Campylobacter, Escherichia coli) Gastroenteritis
    (includes diarrhoea and abdominal pain)
    Viruses (e.g. Rotaviruses, Hepatitis A) Gastroenteritis, respiratory infections
    Parasites (e.g. Cryptosporidium, Giardia) Gastroenteritis,
    (including diarrhoea and abdominal pain, dysentery)
  • What are the sources of microbial pollution in waterways?

    The major sources of microbial pollution in waterways come from:

    • stormwater (from roofs, roads and footpaths)
    • sewage discharge and sewage overflows
    • on-site sewerage facilities (e.g. leaking septic tanks)
    • boating discharges (or bilge water)
    • farm animals (cattle, sheep)
    • faeces from domestic and wild animals.
  • What is stormwater?

    Stormwater is rain or water that runs off roofs, roads and footpaths into the stormwater system. The stormwater system carries water to the nearest creek, river or waterway. Stormwater is not treated before it enters our waterways. Stormwater can contain pollutants such as pathogens (harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites), litter, oil, pesticides and detergents, as well as natural waste such as leaves, soil, and animal faeces.

  • What is sewage?

    Sewage is wastewater that can come from both domestic and industrial sources. This wastewater can come from toilets, showers, the kitchen sink and laundries. Sewage includes faeces, urine and other wastewater. Sewage is transported via the sewerage system to a sewage treatment plant where it is fully treated before it can be discharged into a waterway or reused.

  • What is a sewage overflow?

    Sewage overflows can be caused by heavy rainfall, mechanical faults at sewage treatment plants, or broken or blocked sewer mains. Sewage overflows can result in untreated sewage being discharged directly into waterways. The City will inform the community when a hazardous sewage overflow occurs.

  • What is a septic system?

    Septic systems are independent sewage treatment systems that are not connected to a central sewage treatment system. They normally serve only a single household. If septic systems are incorrectly constructed or maintained they can act as a potential source of microbial pollution.

  • Are there any human health risks associated with swimming near boats?

    The greatest risk associated with swimming near boats is being struck by a moving boat. Always practice caution when swimming near boats.

    Untreated sewage and greywater discharges from boats can create health concerns if discharged into recreational waterways. Greywater is wastewater generated from domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing and bathing.

    It is illegal to discharge sewage from a boat into a designated recreational waterway. Therefore, boat operators must do either of the following:

    • use onshore facilities (such as public toilets)
    • use an onboard portable toilet or sewage holding tank for later disposal ashore where pump out facilities are provided, or in open waters where discharge is permitted
    • use an onboard sewage treatment system.

    Further information is available from the Maritime Safety Queensland website at www.msq.qld.gov.au.

  • What are the National Guidelines?

    In 2008, the National Health and Medical Research Council released the Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Waters (National Guidelines).

    The National Guidelines were developed as a tool for local governments to ensure recreational waterways are managed as safely as possible. The aim of the guidelines is to protect human health by providing a framework to assess, manage and reduce the risks associated with recreational waterway use.

    Recreational water quality monitoring on the Gold Coast is undertaken in line with the National Guidelines.

  • What do we monitor?

    Enterococci are monitored by the City and are also monitored across South East Queensland to indicate the level of microbes in waterways that could pose a risk to human health.

    The National Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Water advocates using enterococci, an indicator bacteria, as the preferred indicator for the detection of faecal contamination in waterways.  Enterococci are present in high numbers in polluted waterways and can be detected using laboratory tests within 24-48 hours.

  • What are enterococci?

    Enterococci are bacteria found in the intestines of humans and warm blooded animals. They are excreted in faeces and indicate if faecal matter and pollution is present in a waterway.

    Enterococci do not generally cause illness but are associated with the presence of pathogens such as harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites which do cause illness.

  • Where do we monitor?

    The City monitors 26 popular recreational water locations within the Gold Coast. These areas include a combination of our open beaches, creeks, estuaries, enclosed lakes and swimming enclosures. 

  • When do we monitor?

    The City completes routine monitoring on a rotating roster every six days. As well as monitoring for enteroccoci, in situ parameters such as pH, dissolve oxygen and salinity are measured. 

  • What is the recreational waters program in South East Queensland?

    The 'Healthy Waterplay' program is a regional initiative in South East Queensland which is coordinated by Healthy Waterways and supported by local governments, water utilities, state government, universities and other relevant organisations. Healthy Waterplay encourages regionally consistent assessment, reporting and management of human health risks in recreational waterways.

    Healthy Waterways is a not-for-profit, non-government, member based organisation working to protect and improve waterway health in South East Queensland (SEQ).

    Further information is available from the Healthy Waterways website at healthywaterways.org

  • What is the difference between monitoring for ecosystem health and human recreational risk?

    Ecosystem health monitoring (for biological, physical and chemical indicators) tells us about the condition of the natural components of waterways, such as plant and animal populations. In contrast monitoring waterways for human health risks tells us about the potential risks to the recreational user.

  • How do I know if it is safe to use a waterway for recreational activities?

    It is not possible to know the exact levels of microbial pollution in a given waterway at all times, and the results from waterway monitoring only indicate the levels of pollution present at the time the sample was taken. It takes a minimum of 24 hours to obtain results by which time the microbial pollution may no longer be present. With this in mind it is important to use your best judgment to decide if it is safe to enter a waterway.

    Refer to the tips listed above on this web page to help you decide when to enter a waterway.

  • What should I do if I come into contact with potentially polluted waterways?

    If you come into contact with a potentially polluted waterway, it is advisable to wash with soap and clean water as soon as possible. Pay particular attention to any open cuts or sores by washing well with soap and water to prevent infection.

  • What should I do if I get ill after being in a waterway?

    If you experience symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea or a stomach ache after having contact with potentially polluted waterways, please visit your doctor for medical advice and contact the Queensland Health Helpline on 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84).

  • How do I report a pollution incident in recreational waterways?

    Please contact the City to report a sewage spill or to report other pollution incidents in recreational waterways.

  • What is the correct maintenance of toilet facilities on boats?

    It is illegal to discharge sewage from a boat into a designated recreational waterway. Therefore, boat operators must do either of the following:

    • use onshore facilities (such as public toilets)
    • use an onboard portable toilet or sewage holding tank for later disposal ashore where pump out facilities are provided, or in open waters where discharge is permitted
    • use an onboard sewage treatment system.

    Further information is available from the Maritime Safety Queensland website at www.msq.qld.gov.au.

  • How can I help keep waterways safe for recreational use?

    While enjoying our waterways for recreation there are things you can do to help keep our waterways safer:

    • use designated toilet facilities
    • ensure young children have frequent toilet breaks
    • dispose of human waste correctly when boating and do not discharge sewage, litter or other waste into recreational waterways
    • avoid swimming in waterways if you have symptoms of diarrhoea or vomiting
    • clean up after your pets, ensuring faeces do not enter the stormwater system or waterways
    • take litter home with you and pick up any litter you see. 
  • What can I do at home to protect waterway health?

    We all have a role to play in protecting waterway health. When it rains, mud, litter and chemicals are washed into stormwater drains and carried into local waterways.

    There are things you can do at home to improve the quality of wastewater and stormwater leaving your urban or rural property:

    • use fertilisers, pesticides and other chemicals appropriately and avoid applying these products if heavy rain is expected
    • use eco-friendly, low phosphorus household cleaning products
    • clean up after your pets ensuring faeces do not enter the stormwater system
    • wash your car on the grass rather than on the street or driveway (or use an eco-friendly car wash facility)
    • plant native vegetation in your yard and keep exposed soil to a minimum by mulching
    • sweep up dirt and mud and put it on the garden rather than hose it down the drain
    • install a rainwater tank to help reduce the volume of stormwater entering local waterways
    • test your on-site sewerage facilities, such as sewer pipes and septic tanks, regularly for leaks and illegal stormwater connections
    • avoid flushing tampons, condoms, cotton buds or cigarette butts down the toilet. Place them in a bin instead
    • dispose of chemicals and batteries correctly. Check out www.recyclingnearyou.com.au to find your local hazardous waste centre
    • where feasible use non-herbicide methods of weed control
    • fence off creek banks and riparian areas to limit animal access to local waterways and reduce animal faeces entering the waterways
    • conduct regular soil tests to prevent the overuse of nitrogen and phosphorus enhancers
    • plant native vegetation along waterways to retain soil on the land.

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