THE Environment Protection Authority has started testing water quality at Port Phillip beaches a month earlier than planned after a warmer than usual spring.
The authority checks if the water is suitable for swimming ever week at 36 beaches including 10 on the Mornington Peninsula – Canadian Bay (Mt Eliza), Mills Beach (Mornington), Mt Martha, Safety Beach, Dromana, Rosebud, Rye, Blairgowrie, Sorrento and Portsea.
It puts water quality updates on its Beach Report website and via Twitter twice a day. Reports started on 31 October and will be done until April, a month later than usual.
The warning system has green, orange or red “lights” to tell swimmers if the water is suitable or if bacterial levels are too high. Green (good) predicts that water quality is suitable for swimming, orange (fair) means the water is good but could be affected by rainfall – particularly if the beach has a stormwater outlet – and red (poor) warns people to avoid contact with the water.
The EPA said forecast signs were also placed at life saving club beaches from December. On the peninsula, this includes Mornington, Mt Martha and Rosebud clubs.
“Forecasts are based on the recreational water quality history of the beach, currents, predicted rainfall and sunlight,” a spokesman said.
“Beach Report keeps people informed about the recreational water quality through daily forecasts. People can make informed decisions about where to swim.”
Water samples are collected at Beach Report sites once a week during summer.
“The samples are tested for enterococci, a group of bacteria found inside warm-blooded animals. Enterococci is recognised as the best indicator for measuring faecal contamination of marine recreational waters.
“During poor forecasts there may be a higher risk of illness to swimmers from increased bacterial levels. A common illness is gastroenteritis. People should see a doctor if they have a suspected swim-related illness.”
State water minister Lisa Neville said the hot start to spring “and expected long summer meant the beach report had started a month early and would go a month later to April”.
She said summer was expected to be hotter and drier than average. If it did rain heavily, stormwater runoff could affect the quality of Port Phillip. “High bacteria levels normally clear within 24 hours.”
The EPA issued few warnings for peninsula beaches last summer and autumn. Among the more notable were when Rye boat ramp was dredged in March, a sewage spill affected Mills Beach at Mornington in March, and a sewage spill closed Fishermans Beach, also at Mornington, in April.
This was a big improvement on the summer of 2011-12 when an algal bloom stretching from Mt Eliza to McCrae caused major concern, and February 2013 when blooms at Mornington closed two of its four swimming beaches.
The EPA said it relied on the community to report pollution, environmental hazard or other activities potentially harmful to the environment. Its pollution hotline is 1300 372 842.