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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 984

(Question No. 4975)

Mr MacKellar asked the Minister representing the Minister for Resources and Energy, upon notice, on 28 November 1986:

Further to the Minister's answer to question No. 4574 (Hansard, 13 November 1986, page 2944), (a) what is the level of Escherichia coli count which is accepted by Australian health authorities as being safe for swimming water, (b) does information available to the River Murray Commission indicate that that level is being regularly exceeded at some testing locations along the River Murray, (c) what locations along the River Murray are regarded by the Commission as requiring early attention to reduce E. coli counts and (d) what authorities are responsible for bacteriological monitoring along the Murrumbidgee River.

Mr Barry Jones —The Minister for Resources and Energy has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(a) Although guidelines are in the course of preparation by the National Health and Medical Research Council, no agreed national standard or guideline has yet been determined by Australian health authorities as to the recommended safe levels of Escherichia coli for swimming in bodies of open fresh water. However, the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Environment has adopted a criterion of a maximum of 150 Faecal coliforms/100 ml for recreation where there is direct contact with water, while the ACT Health Authority and the Environment Protection Authority of Victoria have adopted a maximum of 200 faecal coliforms/100 ml as a criterion.

(b) The River Murray Commission's water quality monitoring includes monthly samples for counts of E. coli and total coliform bacteria from water supply offtake points along the River and several additional sites in South Australia.

Bacterial counts from some of these sites do sometimes exceed the criterion of 200 organisms/100 ml mentioned above, and the River could be regarded as unfit for swimming under conditions when this criterion is exceeded. It appears that bacterial numbers are most likely to be high following heavy rain after a prolonged dry spell.

(c) The information on bacterial contamination of the Murray currently available to the River Murray Commission is insufficient to determine priority reaches of the River requiring early attention to reduce E. coli counts. The Commission is currently developing a proposal to supplement the monitoring of bacteria in the River with an intensive survey to identify any point sources of bacterial contamination amenable to improved control.

(d) The authorities with responsibilities for bacteriological monitoring along the Murrumbidgee River are: in the ACT-the Department of Territories and the ACT Health Authority (undertaken as part of a regular program of water sampling); in NSW-the Department of Health, the State Pollution Control Commission and the Department of Water Resources.