The recent sunshine on northern rivers is not enough to warrant a dip in Ballina’s oceans and waterways, with the council warning post-flood pollution could take several weeks to subside.
Council workers tested the water for faeces after two sewage treatment plants in Lismore were damaged when flooding first broke levees on February 28.
Since then, the two broken down Lismore plants had been dumping around four megalitres of raw sewage a day into the Wilsons River.
The Wilsons River fed Ballina’s Richmond River, but Ballina Shire Council environment manager Tom McAully Rix said it was impossible to assess the impact of raw sewage further downstream.
Updates have been sought from Lismore City Council on the status of factories in South and East Lismore, Mr McAully Rix said.
something in the water
Online information from the Ballina Shire Council says water samples have been tested for the presence of a bacteria called enterococcus.
“Enterococci are found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals and are excreted in faeces and rarely present in unpolluted waters,” the information states.
“The bacterium is found in very high numbers in raw sewage, making it a good indicator of sewage pollution,” the information continues.
“Studies have shown a strong relationship between high levels of enterococci and rates of illness in swimmers.”
The information noted that the enterococci themselves did not cause disease, but that their presence meant that disease-causing sewage and possibly other pathogens were in the water.
Council workers were not checking the waters for anything other than faeces, but Mr McAully Rix said they would carry out targeted sampling if they received reports of other contamination.
“We’ve heard of oil drums floating downriver and washing up on beaches, but no specific events that required sampling,” McAully Rix said.
“But unless there’s a specific incident like a flooded gas station or something, we won’t be testing for other contaminants,” he said.
Water quality results cannot be guaranteed
Council workers would take samples of the Ballina Shire waters on Thursday and the results are expected to be made public next Tuesday or Wednesday.
The latest test results for the Ballina Shire were from samples taken on April 14 and were available via the Ballina County Council website.
They showed the results of samples taken from fourteen sites around the county, including Shaws Bay; Lake Ainsworth; The Spit (the dog beach part of Missingham Beach); The Serpentine (north of Missingham Bridge on the west side); and Lighthouse, Shelley and Seven Mile Beaches.
Results ranged from poor to poor and fair to good, but Mr McAully Rix said a variety of factors meant that water quality results at any given time could not be guaranteed.
“Oceans are harder to predict, especially with tides, swells, winds and currents,” McAully Rix said. echo Thursday.
“Water quality can change quite dramatically in a short period of time,” McAully Rix said.
“At low tide you will get cleaner, bluer water, but at low tide a lot of dirty water will come out of the river,” he said.
Mr McAully Rix said sampling had shown poor water quality on beaches and rivers in Ballina near estuaries at low tide.
Dogs, fish and sea life beyond northern rivers are all at risk
Mr McAully Rix said the council had warning signs on beaches and waterways about the risks of flooding and the public seemed to take the council’s advice seriously.
There weren’t many people swimming, he said, and just a handful of surfers taking the risk on the beaches.
The NSW Food Authority has also warned anglers to be extra careful and avoid consuming shellfish from flood-affected waters.
A spokesperson for Ballina Veterinary Hospital advised people against allowing dogs to swim or drink in Ballina County’s oceans and waterways.
The spokesperson said that although a direct link between water pollution and illnesses recently reported to the hospital could not be confirmed, there were several “bugs” circulating for dogs, including including gastric insects.
Mr McAully Rix said that because this year’s flooding was unprecedented, it was too early to say what kind of impact the pollution would have on the marine environment beyond Ballina.
Research was underway at Southern Cross University into the potential impacts, McAully Rix said.
Further north in the Byron Shire, more water quality test results were due to be published on the Byron Shire Council website on Thursday afternoon.
Byron Shire Council employees were only taking samples from five locations: Tallow, Main and Clarkes Beaches in Byron Bay and Torakina Beach and Simpsons Creek in Brunswick Heads.