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COOGEE BEACH WATER QUALITY: A STORM IN A TEACUP?

By Madeleine Gray on March 31, 2017 in News

Photo:  Randwick City Council

Photo: Randwick City Council

In October last year, the NSW State Government released the 2015–2017 State of the Beaches report. Satisfyingly, 97 per cent of the 140 monitored beach swimming locations in NSW were graded as ‘Very Good’ or ‘Good’.

However, amongst the usual swathe of statistics about enterococci levels and lagoon swimming sites, one finding left Eastern Beaches dwellers reasonably concerned: Coogee Beach had been downgraded from ‘Good’ to ‘Poor’.

Naturally, this rating has been met with anxiety, and while the ‘Poor’ rating is certainly an indication that things need to be improved, the explanation behind it makes it clear that the situation is not as dire as it first seems.

“While Coogee Beach generally had good water quality during dry weather, elevated bacteria levels were regularly measured following low levels of rainfall,” the report states.

“Water quality was impacted by stormwater associated with frequent rainfall events during the assessment period, including the wettest January for Sydney since 1988.

“The impact of these events was enough to just breach the threshold from ‘Good’ to ‘Poor’, however did not significantly increase the risk to public health from the previous year.”

This is certainly heartening. However, the position of the stormwater outlet at the northern end of the beach is definitely less than perfect, and it leaves open the possibility of wastewater overflow – particularly if a careless and/or lazy tradesperson in the area decides to pump site water into the stormwater system.

In early February this year, many beachgoers reported seeing white and brown sediment-laden water washing into the beach from the stormwater pipe. For approximately one month, the source of that contamination was unknown.

Randwick Council has now confirmed that the cause of the pollution was an unnamed builder “who pumped untreated sediment-laden water directly into the stormwater system via the rear lane of a building on Mount Street.”

The builder has been hit with an $8,520 fine by the council, and denounced by Mayor D’Souza as an “environmental vandal”.

While this discovery explains the cause of Coogee’s early February pollution, it does not negate the elevated bacteria levels that occur in the event of high rainfall, as outlined in the State of the Beaches report.

As such, on February 28 Randwick Council resolved, among other strategies, to “commence discussions with Sydney Water to resolve concerns about water pollution at Coogee Beach” and to “assess extending the stormwater pipe’s discharge point further off the beach by diverting the pipe through the adjacent northern headland”.

The latter strategy was investigated and then deemed “not viable” in 2014 due to the associated expense of the project, so its fate this time around will likely rest on whether funding can be raised.

Tellingly, Bondi Beach has retained its ‘Good’ grade. This is most likely the result of the Bondi Stormwater Reuse program, which captures and removes pollutants from 48 million litres of stormwater annually. Bondi has also benefitted greatly from the long ocean outfall from the North Bondi Sewage Treatment Plant, which was introduced by Sydney Water some 25 years ago.

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