Microbial risk classifications for recreational waters and applications to the Swan and Canning Rivers in Western Australia

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Protecting recreational water quality where ‘whole-of-body contact’ activities occur is important from a public health and economic perspective. Numerous studies have demonstrated that infectious illnesses occur when swimming in faecally polluted waters. With the release of the 2008 Australian recreational water guidelines, the Western Australian (WA) Department of Health conducted a formal evaluation to highlight the advantages of applying the microbial risk management framework to 27 swimming beaches in the Swan and Canning Rivers in Perth, WA. This involved a two-phase approach: (i) calculation of 95th percentiles using historical enterococci data; and (ii) undertaking sanitary inspections. The outcomes were combined to assign provisional risk classifications for each site. The classifications are used to promote informed choices as a risk management strategy. The study indicates that the majority of swimming beaches in the Swan-Canning Rivers are classified as ‘very good’ to ‘good’ and are considered safe for swimming. The remaining sites were classified as ‘poor’, which is likely to be attributed to environmental influences. Information from the study was communicated to the public via a series of press releases and the Healthy Swimming website. The guidelines provide a sound approach to managing recreational water quality issues, but some limitations were identified.

Keywords: microbiological assessment categories, recreational water, sanitary inspection, water quality, 95th percentiles

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