I hereby give notice that an ordinary meeting of the Environment and Community Committee will be held on:

 

Date:                      

Time:

Meeting Room:

Venue:

 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

9.30am

Reception Lounge
Auckland Town Hall
301-305 Queen Street
Auckland

 

Environment and Community Committee

 

OPEN ADDENDUM AGENDA

 

 

 

MEMBERSHIP

 

Chairperson

Cr Penny Hulse

 

Deputy Chairperson

Cr Alf Filipaina

 

Members

IMSB Member James Brown

Cr Daniel Newman, JP

 

Cr Dr Cathy Casey

Cr Dick Quax

 

Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore

Cr Greg Sayers

 

Cr Ross Clow

Cr Desley Simpson, JP

 

Cr Fa’anana Efeso Collins

Cr Sharon Stewart, QSM

 

Cr Linda Cooper, JP

Cr Sir John Walker, KNZM, CBE

 

Cr Chris Darby

Cr Wayne Walker

 

Cr Hon Christine Fletcher, QSO

Cr John Watson

 

Mayor Hon Phil Goff, JP

IMSB Member Glenn Wilcox

 

Cr Richard Hills

 

 

Cr Denise Lee

 

 

Cr Mike Lee

 

 

(Quorum 11 members)

 

 

 

Tam White

Senior Governance Advisor

 

9 February 2017

 

Contact Telephone: (09) 890 8156

Email: tam.white@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

Website: www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

 

 

 


Environment and Community Committee

14 February 2017

 

 

ITEM   TABLE OF CONTENTS                                                                                        PAGE

  

16        Future Options for Safeswim Programme                                                                 5   

 

    


Environment and Community Committee

14 February 2017

 

 

Future Options for Safeswim Programme

 

File No.: CP2017/00277

 

Purpose

1.       To receive the findings of an independent audit of Auckland Council’s Safeswim programme and to agree actions that strengthen and enhance the accuracy of reporting potential public health risk to beach users.

Executive summary

2.       Auckland Council’s Safeswim programme is designed in accordance with the Microbiological Water Quality Guidelines for Marine and Freshwater Recreational Areas published by the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry of Health. 

3.       Water quality at Auckland beaches is generally good.  However, on occasion and typically after rain, contaminants can impact water quality creating a potential risk to public health.

4.       Safeswim’s objective is to inform the public of potential risk to human health from swimming at beaches occasionally affected by human and animal waste. Whilst the potential risk of illness arising from exposure is known, public health records show actual harm being caused is very low. 

5.       The national guidelines were published in 2003 and represented the best scientific information available at the time, drawing on both New Zealand and international scientific studies.  Since then, our understanding of water quality and the relationship to public health has advanced, as has the accuracy of mathematical models to describe and forecast risk.

6.       Auckland Council commissioned an independent audit on the Safeswim programme in late 2016. The audit found the programme to comply with New Zealand guidelines, but supported staff views that it could be enhanced to incorporate current best practice and utilise sophisticated models that Auckland Council has developed and tested over the past two years.

7.       The authors of the independent audit recommend council;

i.     shift from a weekly reporting based on retrospective monitoring results to a forecasting approach based on a validated water quality risk model.

ii.     upgrade Safeswim communication tools to include mobile reporting and active beach information signs.

8.       Auckland Council has the opportunity to break new ground in New Zealand by implementing a modelling and forecasting approach.  This will provide water quality information in advance of use, allowing beach users to make informed decisions on when and where to go swimming, thereby minimising potential health risks.

9.       Auckland Council has developed a sophisticated model that predicts concentrations of faecal indicating bacteria in the Central Waitemata Harbour.  The model works by establishing a relationship between climate (rainfall, wind and tide), land use and faecal indicating bacteria. Further refinement of the model will ensure a level of accuracy well beyond current Safeswim programme reporting and results. Additionally, the model will be expanded to include other Auckland harbours and beaches.

10.     Promoting bathing beach information across multiple communication channels in an engaging and easily understood format will raise awareness of forecasted water quality. 

11.     Remediating sources of contamination from urban areas is technically challenging, financially demanding and requires long term diagnosis, management and investment by a number of infrastructure providers.

 

12.     Auckland Council has invested substantially in new and upgraded wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, adopted rules and practices to reduce contaminants at source, is facilitating water sensitive design in urban developments, has incentivised the upgrade of septic tank systems to reduce pollution entering the West Coast lagoons, and is empowering communities to care for local waterways.

Recommendation/s

That the Environment and Community Committee:

a)      note the findings of the independent audit on Safeswim prepared by MartinJenkins Ltd.

b)      endorse the recommended improvements to the Waitemata Safeswim programme, specifically;

i.     shift the programme from a weekly reporting of retrospective monitoring results to a validated modelling and forecasting approach by 1 November 2017, and

ii.     upgrade communication tools to include mobile reporting and active beach information signs.

c)      approve implementation of this initiative within existing budgets, including an initial capital investment of $325,000.

d)      forward this report and resolutions to all Local Boards for their information.

Background

13.     Auckland’s beaches are generally safe for recreation.  Regular, long-term monitoring by Auckland Council indicates that water quality is good for the majority of the time. However, on occasion, water quality problems can arise and some beaches and lagoons become unsafe for swimming. 

14.     A small proportion of beaches and lagoons in Auckland are affected by chronic contamination. Council has erected long term health warnings in accordance with National guidelines and agreement with the Auckland Regional Public Health Service.

15.     Accidental swallowing and inhalation of sea water may occur during swimming and other recreational water activities.  This may expose beach users to pathogens if water is contaminated with human or animal waste.  Whilst there is a known potential risk of illness arising from exposure to contaminated water, there are currently no reported cases of people getting sick as a result of swimming at Auckland beaches.

16.     Urban areas can be significant sources of contamination. This is primarily caused by;

·    stormwater infiltrating sewage systems causing highly diluted but untreated sewage to overflow into streams or directly to coastal areas, and

·    stormwater picking up contaminants as it flows over the land.

17.     Parts of Auckland, other than the Waitemata, may also be affected by localised sources of contamination.  For example, underperforming septic tank systems impacting lagoons on west coast beaches, or on Waiheke Island.

Safeswim monitoring programme

18.     Auckland Council runs the “Safeswim” programme over the summer season to identify whether bathing beach water is contaminated and potentially unsafe for contact recreation.

19.     This monitoring programme involves the collection of weekly water samples from 69 beaches and three freshwater bodies around the region, which are then tested for bacteria that indicate faecal contamination. Results are posted to the council website.

20.     The programme is designed in accordance with the Microbiological Water Quality Guidelines for Marine and Freshwater Recreational Areas published jointly by the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry of Health in 2003.

Comment

Opportunity to improve Safeswim beyond the New Zealand guidelines

21.     The New Zealand guidelines were introduced in 2003 and represented the best scientific information available at the time, drawing on both New Zealand and international scientific studies.  Since their introduction, our understanding of water quality and the relationship to public health has advanced, as has the accuracy of mathematical models to describe and forecast potential risk

22.     This presents an opportunity to incorporate current best practice and to utilise sophisticated models that Auckland Council has developed and tested over the past two years.  The models would allow beach users to make more informed decisions on when and where to go swimming thereby minimising potential health risks.

Independent audit findings

23.     Martin Jenkins Ltd was commissioned in September 2016 to undertake an independent audit of operations in order to assist staff to better understand the strengths of the current programme and to advise on improvement opportunities.

24.     The audit was undertaken utilising international best practice and the latest in scientific knowledge.  A ‘benchmark framework’ was created to inform subsequent improvements, refer to Attachment A.

25.     The audit concurs with staff views that the Safeswim programme, whilst compliant with the New Zealand guidelines, is currently under reporting non-compliance and therefore can be significantly enhanced in assessing and communicating the potential health risks of swimming at Auckland’s beaches.

26.     The audit identified a number of issues with the current methodology, which when combined, may contribute to beach users potentially and inadvertently being exposed to adverse health outcomes.

27.     A key concern is the inherent limitations of a weekly monitoring programme:

·    Contamination at some beaches is linked to sewer overflows following rainfall.  These events are typically short in duration (most less than 24 hours). A weekly monitoring programme means there is only a 1 in 7 chance of identifying these periods of elevated health risk, and as such, may under-report health risks.

·    The programme relies on water samples being collected and sent to a laboratory for analysis. This generally takes 24 hours, which means the results are quickly out of date. Beach water quality can change from good to poor (and vice versa) between the sample being taken and the results being available.

·    The programme requires a helicopter for sampling at the majority of locations, which cannot fly during bad weather, so water quality results are biased to samples collected in good weather.

28.     Communication of the current Safeswim programme has limited reach, being based on a simple webpage with no accompanying information signage at beaches, unless an exceedance is advised (or where long term warning signage is in place). The Council website recorded 13,000 page views across the 2015/16 bathing season (November 2015 to March 2016). This is low when compared with other pages across council’s website, or international best practice (e.g. Scotland). In the case of Scotland, an advanced communication system broadcasts water quality results simultaneously to electronic signage distributed across their beaches, to a webservice and to a mobile application.

29.     The audit concluded that a more accurate assessment of risk and the provision of that information in a timely and user-friendly manner will allow beach users to make more informed decisions on when and where to go swimming.

Audit recommendations

30.     The audit makes eight formal recommendations summarised as:

·     Forecasting; develop and extend the use of human health-risk modelling and forecasting.

·     Communication; upgrade the Safeswim programme communications across modern channels.

·     Relationships; foster multi-sector sector support to review national guidance.

·     Accreditation and continual improvement; consider participation with third party accreditation schemes.

 

31.     Specifically it is recommended that council:

i.     Shifts Safeswim from a weekly reporting of retrospective monitoring results to a validated modelling and forecasting approach.

ii.     Upgrades Safeswim communication tools to include mobile reporting and active beach information signs.

iii.    Implement these in time for the next bathing season commencing November 2017.

Options considered for assessing risk to public health

32.     Options for enhancing Safeswim’s methodology are presented below. Staff have identified a preferred approach for endorsement by the Committee, following consideration of the pros and cons of alternative responses.

1.       Maintain status quo

2.       Increase monitoring frequency

3.       Use modelling and forecasting

33.     The pros and cons of each option are shown in Table 1.

 

Pros

Cons

Option one:

Maintain status quo

 

Continue to run Safeswim based on national guidance

·   No change to resource demands on Auckland Council

·   Maintains consistency with national guidance

 

·   Does not improve protection of public health (retrospective results)

·   Beach users remain relatively uninformed.

·   Potentially misses some contamination events

·   Organisational risk.

Option two:

Increase monitoring frequency

 

Move to daily or three times weekly sampling

 

 

·   Improved knowledge of water quality.

·   Increased likelihood of capturing contamination events.

 

·   Some events still missed.

·   Doesn’t address the laboratory results lag time

·   Does not substantially improve protection of public health (retrospective results).

·   Increased costs (permanent).

·   Moderate organisational risk.

Option three (recommended):

Use modelling and forecasting

 

To provide daily forecast of bathing quality akin to regular weather forecasts

·   Adequately protects public health by providing health risk information in advance and before exposure.

·   Improved knowledge of water quality.

·   Captures all rain events.

·   Can operate year-round.

·   More public understanding of the drivers of health risk.

·   Lessens organisational risk.

 

·   Education of public required (understanding change to risk based assessment).

·   Potential adverse response to perception that bathing beach quality has got worse.

·   Requires monitoring and reporting publicly of wastewater overflows.

 

 

 

34.     Whilst option one (maintain status quo) ensures council continues to comply with the National guidelines, it does not advance more effective reporting of public health risk.

35.     Option two allows council to collect more information about water quality, but a monitoring approach, no matter how frequently samples are collected, will always mean any management action is retrospective. This means that the public are potentially and inadvertently exposed to health risks before laboratory results are received. This limitation is recognised internationally, for example in the USA where modelling and forecasting is being used to overcome this issue.

36.     Option three is recommended as the most effective way to better assess and publicise any public health risk at site. The benefits are explained in detail below.

Benefits of modelling and forecasting bathing beach quality

37.     A modelling and forecasting approach provides water quality information in advance of use, allowing beach users to make informed decisions on when and where to go swimming to minimise the health risk to which they are potentially exposed.

38.     These benefits are best illustrated in Attachment B, Figure 1, which is a real forecast from the current ‘proof of concept’ forecast model that is operating in the central Waitematā Harbour. This forecast was accessed on the morning of 7 December 2016 and showed that rain forecast (for later that day and the following day) was predicted to have impacts on water quality in the harbour.

39.     However, the effects outlined in Attachment B are not consistent in space or time. Poorer water quality and higher health risks were forecasted at western beaches (Point Chevalier and Herne Bay) when compared with eastern beaches (Kohimarama and Mission Bay). In addition, the forecast shows that water quality changes over the course of the three days.

40.     This type of forecast allows beach users to;

i.     Select where to go swimming to avoid beaches with higher health risk (e.g. Mission Bay rather than Point Chevalier).

ii.     Select when to go swimming to avoid times with higher health risk (e.g. Friday afternoon at Herne Bay rather than Thursday).

41.     In this way, the water quality forecast can be used to inform the public’s decision making about swimming at beaches, in the same manner that we use weather forecasts to guide our decisions about where and when to undertake activities.

42.     The value of this forecast is reinforced by comparison with the Safeswim weekly monitoring at these locations. Samples were collected from all four beaches on the 6th December and all were well within guidelines, which means the beaches were declared ‘safe’ and they would not be sampled again until a week later.

Model performance

43.     Auckland Council has developed a sophisticated model that predicts concentrations of faecal indicating bacteria in the Central Waitemata Harbour.  The model works by establishing a relationship between climate (rainfall, wind tide), land use and faecal indicating bacteria.

44.     Further refinement of the model is intended to raise the model’s accuracy to 95%, a significant level of accuracy well beyond the current Safeswim programme.

45.     Additionally, the model will be expanded to include the outer Waitemata and Manukau harbours.

Benefits of improved communication

46.     Regardless of the option adopted for assessing risk, a concurrent upgrade of the Safeswim communication tools is essential. 

47.     Promoting bathing beach information across multiple channels in an engaging and easily understood format will raise awareness of forecasted water quality.

Other actions to improve water quality

48.     The Auckland Plan expresses the vision of Auckland being the most liveable city in the world - te pai me te whai rawa o Tāmaki.  Auckland Growing Greener is a strategic action plan that coordinates the Auckland Plan’s transformational shift to environmental action and green growth.  Amongst the four priority areas identified is a commitment to healthy waters. 

49.     Specifically, the implementation of priority initiatives to:

·    adopt rules and practices to reduce contaminants at source

·    promote the use of water sensitive design in all developments

·    improve water quality by reducing stormwater contaminants at source and local board driven industry pollution prevention programmes

·    implement, with community partners, the West Coast Lagoons Action Plan to address the multiple sources of pollutants entering the lagoons from surrounding land

·    roll out improved stormwater catchpit maintenance practices which is likely to achieve 75 per cent more sediment being removed

·    build the Central Interceptor tunnel between Western Springs and Māngere Wastewater Treatment Plant to reduce wastewater overflows into the Waitematā Harbour and allow for growth

·    deliver a water quality monitoring, education and action programme for community groups, individuals, businesses and schools

·    support community-based catchment initiatives such as Project Twin Streams, Te Auaunga Awa, and the Whau and Weiti restoration projects

50.     Improving water quality includes working closely with Watercare Services Ltd. Significant improvements to water quality have arisen from substantial investment in waterwater treatment plants and wastewater networks.  Further substantial investment is proposed to continue this trend.  For example, the Central Interceptor Programme will improve the resilience of the wastewater network, provide capacity to accommodate growth and, importantly, reduce the frequency of waterwater overflows. 

Consideration

Local board views and implications

51.     No specific engagement regarding this report or the underlying independent audit has been undertaken with local boards.

52.     Local boards take a keen interest in beaches monitored in the Safeswim programme, particularly in the event of public health exceedances. Some boards have initiated reviews, action plans, and in some cases funding to upgrade sources of contaminations to address water quality issues at swimming sites. For example the Waitakere Ranges Local Board has a septic tank subsidy grants programme which aims to improve the water quality in the western lagoons. The Waiheke Local Board has been working closely with the Waiheke Resources Trust and the local community to improve the Little Oneroa stream and lagoon.

53.     Proposed changes to Safeswim will increase the frequency of public health warnings issued. Staff will engage directly with local boards to discuss and agree the mechanism by which exceedances are advised to communities.

Māori impact statement

54.     The proposed improvements to the Safeswim programme will impact Maori twofold; as better informed recreational users of Auckland beaches in terms of potential risk to health, and as kaitiaki, where the Healthy Waters initiative and associated infrastructure investment led by Watercare Services Ltd will contribute significant improvements in water quality.

Implementation

55.     The recommended improvements to Safeswim programme require an investment of $325,000 over the next six months to ensure sufficient time for testing over the winter months prior to deployment in the 2017/2018 swimming season.

56.     The cost of implementing these recommendations will be met from existing budgets.

 

 

Attachments

No.

Title

Page

a

MJ - Safeswim Programme Review

13

b

MJ - Bathing water forecast Central Waitematā Harbour

47

      

Signatories

Authors

Grant Barnes - General Manager Licensing and Compliance Services

Craig Mcilroy - General Manager Healthy Waters

Authorisers

Barry Potter - Director Infrastructure and Environmental Services

Penny Pirrit - Director Regulatory Services

Dean Kimpton - Chief Operating Officer

 


Environment and Community Committee

14 February 2017

 

 

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Environment and Community Committee

14 February 2017

 

 

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