The residents of New South Wales might have a slippery problems on their hand. As floods continue to inundate the coastal region, fears of contamination have prompted water restrictions and beach closures. Throughout the week, locals have witnessed runoffs containing sewage, chemicals and debris. Beachgoers, surfers and lifeguards await better weather news on the horizon. To belay the general public, Surf Life Saving NSW has advised visitors to check the website Beach Safe or council websites before making their visit. Swimmers are also encouraged to rinse themselves off after being in the water.
“There is a lot of unknown and potentially hazardous debris floating in the ocean and below the surface as well as pollutants, sewerage and chemical runoff that have now made their way to the beaches. Even if the water looks clear, it may not be safe” says SLSNSW Director Of Lifesaving Joel Wiseman
Numerous sites in Southern Sydney have also been affected, including Botany Bay, lower Georges River and Port Hacking. A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said that “heavy rain and flood waters will have washed pollutants from our streets, including rubbish, bird and dog faeces, cigarette butts, leaf litter and oil into the storm-water systems”. Moreover, wastewater systems may be burdened as discharge and sediments could trigger a potential biohazard.
Finding oneself in the midst of stormy waters increases the susceptibility to pathogens that may contain hidden bacteria and viral infections, making one more vulnerable to illness. Clothing could snag onto falling tree branches, grime or other debris underneath the surface. Ironically, the state’s critical water supplies have also been threatened by piles of ash, sediment and debris from recent forest fires. The issue is not completely new to the region, one good example being the lack of clean drinking water following Brisbane’s 2013 floods when mudwater from Lockyer Valley led to an almost empty water filtration system. Whilst larger dams such Sydney’s Warragamba may be able to maintain its current water quality due to a larger catchment area, smaller ones such as Brogo River catchment area in Bega Valley have less “resilience” in comparison.
Stuart Khan, Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has advised the general public to refrain from paddling within 24 hours of major rainfall, and recommends against swimming in closed environments, such as rivers or lakes, for least three days after these flood waters subside.