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2014-15 Summer Highlights Report

Beach landscape

The beaches around Port Philip Bay are used for recreational activities such as boating and swimming, particularly throughout summer.

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) runs the Beach Report program, which forecasts and monitors recreational water quality at 36 beaches around Port Phillip Bay during the summer season.

The summer period runs from 1 December to Victoria’s Labour Day long weekend (ending 9 March in 2015).

 

How did our beaches perform?

 94% (34 out of 36) of beaches around Port Philip Bay met our end-of-season water quality objectives for swimming. Beaches that did not meet the recreational water quality objectives were Werribee South and St Leonards.

These beaches were impacted by stormwater runoff, which carries pollution. This does not mean these beaches were unsafe for swimming the whole season, but they did experience a higher number of days with poorer water quality.

 

Beach water quality is improving

Water quality at Port Phillip Bay beaches has generally become safer for recreational use this season.

We’re finding less bacteria at these beaches, as we’ve been experiencing closer to average rainfall in recent years compared to previous years, when more rain flushed stormwater pollutants into the bay.

 

What information do we gather about beaches?

The information we report on this website and through Twitter includes the following:

  • Water quality forecasts
    • Reported twice daily.
    • Forecasts of ‘Good’, ‘Fair’ or ‘Poor’ are given for each beach.
    • Based on: weather forecasts, observations and warnings; water quality history; and weekly water sampling results.
  • Weekly water quality monitoring
    • Samples are analysed for the presence of a group of bacteria called enterococci, which indicate that water may not be safe for recreational use due to faecal contamination
    • If it’s not considered safe to swim, the public is notified on the website and Twitter, and signage is put up by the local council at the affected beach.
    • EPA works with bayside councils and water authorities to investigate the source of water pollution.
    • These samples are used to assess whether the site has met the end-of-season water quality objectives for swimming.
  • Alerts about pollution incidents, fish deaths and algal blooms.
    • Water quality alerts are given all year round.

Pollution can be reported at any time to EPA on 1300 372 842.

 

 

What influenced water quality and forecasts this summer?

Weather events impacting beach water quality

Algal Bloom AltonaDuring rain events, pollutants in runoff wash down stormwater channels and out into the bay, making nearby beaches unsafe for swimming.

When a rain event happened, Beach Report informed the public by issuing a water quality forecast of ‘Poor’, advising the public to avoid swimming near stormwater outlets, rivers and creeks for 24 to 48 hours after rain.

An example of this was during heavy rain in early December 2014 and again in early January and February. On these occasions beaches were issued with ‘Poor’ forecasts for one or two days at a time, and stormwater alerts were issued.

 

What else impacted water quality over the summer?

There were four water quality alerts issued for Port Phillip Bay beaches:

  • A pollution alert was issued on 16 February 2015 for Carrum Beach after reports to EPA of brown discolouration at the beach and in the nearby Patterson River. Our investigation concluded it was most likely sediment being washed down the river and into the bay from heavy rain two days prior.
  • A fish death alert was issued on 3 February 2015 for St Leonards Beach after reports of hundreds of dead fish in the water and on the foreshore. We concluded that the fish were from a commercial ‘bycatch’ – an unwanted catch of fish. 
  • An algal bloom was issued for Altona beach on 20 February 2015 after EPA received reports of a black-and-brown film on the surface of the water. Investigation detected a non-toxic algal bloom and we alerted the public to avoid contact. Algal blooms are not uncommon, and are most likely to occur in warm weather following stormwater run-off and river inflow into the bay after heavy rain.
  • Near the end of the summer, a pollution alert was issued for Altona beach on 3 March 2015 after receiving a report of black discoloured water at the western end of the beach. Investigations concluded that the discoloration was most likely related to a build-up of decomposing seagrass and recent disturbance from seagrass removal.

All water quality alerts were removed after the pollution, dead fish or algal bloom could no longer be detected or were no longer visible.

 

Water quality signs at Melbourne beaches

EPA is working in partnership with Life Saving Victoria to introduce water quality forecast signs at more Port Phillip Bay beaches.

In 2014–15 the number of life saving club beaches with signs was expanded from 10 to 18. The signs inform beachgoers of water quality forecasts and other water conditions for swimming.

The signs were used at the following beaches on weekends and public holidays during the summer when lifesavers were on patrol: Santa Casa (Queenscliff), Eastern (Geelong),  Altona, Williamstown, Sandridge, Port Melbourne, St Kilda, Elwood,  Half Moon Bay, Black Rock, Hampton, Sandringham, Beaumaris, Mentone, Mordialloc, Seaford, Frankston and Dromana.

 

Improvements to the program this summer

  • Beach Report now provides forecasts and monitors water quality at 25 life saving club beaches in the bay, compared with 16 last summer.
  • 18 life saving club beaches now have signage, compared with 10 last summer.
  • The types of year-round water quality alerts we report was expanded to include stormwater alerts  and alerts for emergency response discharges into the bay after heavy rain.

 

Beach Report ‘Fast Facts’

  • In 2014–15, water quality forecasts were ‘Good’ 71% of the time, ‘Fair’ 21% and ‘Poor’ 8%.
  • Four water pollution alerts were issued over the summer for Port Phillip Bay catchment.
  • The Beach Report forecast page was viewed over 24,000 times throughout summer. The highest page view count was on 15 February 2015. Forecasts were also provided to around 1,650 followers on Twitter.

 

Future directions

EPA Beach Report is working with research organisations, water authorities and bayside councils to trial new techniques for faster reporting of bacteria in water, and better tracking of sources that cause unsafe levels for swimming.

Beach Report currently provides forecasts and monitors water quality at 25 life saving club beaches in the Bay. We will continue to increase the number of beaches included in forecasting by ensuring that all 28 lifesaving clubs are included in Beach Report, and that these clubs have water quality forecasts signs.

Program Partners

Department of Environment and Primary Industries Environmental Protection Agency Melbourne Water