More New Zealanders checking freshwater quality online before they dive in

15 March 2017

Freshwater quality information is becoming increasingly desirable with recent data showing more New Zealanders than ever before are looking online before they dive in. This summer nearly double the number of Kiwis looking for a safe place to swim have used (Land, Air, Water Aotearoa), when compared with the same quarter last year.

A popular feature of the website is the ‘Can I swim here?’ module, which outlines which rivers and lakes are swimmable based on bacterial counts and other important factors. The LAWA website hosts environmental data for everyone to use and the warmer months have sent a flood of visitors to the site; there were 22,100 visitors in the last quarter.

Cawthron Institute joined LAWA to assure users that the freshwater data – its collection methods, analysis, and quality control processes – can be trusted.

Cawthron freshwater ecologist Kati Doehring became involved in the project during its infancy and said the processes behind the collection and analysis of all freshwater data has been reviewed.

“Any data that needs to be treated with caution is flagged accordingly by the Cawthron Tick. Data that doesn’t meet the standard is not included on the website,” Kati Doehring said.

“The site informs everyone in quite a simple and effective way – it’s not just scientists talking to scientists. Councils have always informed the public about the state of their rivers, but you had to go to each council’s website and look for it. Now it’s all combined in one website and it’s all of New Zealand, so it’s very user-friendly.”

The Cawthron Institute independently validates the quality of the data, so information marked with the ‘Cawthron Tick’ is reliable. Kati Doehring said there’s a huge need for scientists to communicate with the public regarding water quality.

“LAWA’s a great tool because it connects New Zealanders with their environment.”

Over the weekend much of New Zealand experienced heavy rainfall, Cawthron Institute advises people avoid swimming after wet weather as contaminants will have been washed into rivers and lakes.

LAWA is a collaboration between Regional and unitary councils, the Ministry for the Environment, and the Cawthron Institute.  There are plans to extend the website in mid-2017, to include land cover data.

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Screengrab of LAWA’s ‘Can I swim here?’ module