One poo can close the lake
It only takes a small amount of poo to pollute a whole swimming area and ruin a lot of people’s summer holidays.
That’s why this year’s Love Our Lakes campaign is reminding visitors to use public toilets, scoop up dog poo and use swim nappies for babies.
The campaign, led by the Upper Waitaki Water Zone Committee, is using eye-catching posters, community events and social media to get the message out that ‘One poo can close the lake’.
Reducing pollution risk ahead of a busy summer
Committee Chair, Simon Cameron, said this summer it will be even more important that everyone does their bit to protect water quality, as COVID-19 international travel restrictions are set to boost lake-side camping and tourism.
"We’ve heard that campgrounds are already fully-booked, so we know there will be a large number of people visiting and being active in and around our lakes.
"That increases the risk of the bacteria E.coli getting into our lake swimming areas by someone not using the toilet or not disposing of dog poo.
"So if you are one of the thousands of Cantabrians set to head to the lakes over summer to enjoy a classic Kiwi camping experience make sure you poo in a loo, scoop up your dog poo and ensure babies and toddlers are wearing swim nappies."
Lake Ruataniwha health alert last summer
Bacteria and other pathogens from poo can make swimmers very sick and affect mahinga kai food gathering and the māuri (life force) of the water.
If bacteria levels reach the level for health warning, the recreation area may be closed, which can affect thousands of holiday-makers.
In January 2020, an E.coli pollution event occurred at Lake Ruataniwha that led to health alert measures and closure of the main lake swimming area for several days at peak summer. This impacted thousands of holidaymakers.
Surface water science team leader, Shirley Hayward, said human or dog poo was a likely contributor to this event.
“Our investigation ruled in other possible contributors, such as birds, farming activity or a sewerage problem.
Due to the fact that there was so much human activity in and around the water, it’s likely that it was caused by poo.”
“Human faeces are an especially concerning pollution source due to the wide range of pathogens that can be present.
"It only takes a single 'deposit' to contaminate an area because lake swimming areas are like pools – warm, shallow and without a lot of flow. One ‘accident’ can close the lake for a whole camping trip.”
What else is being done?
Raising awareness of toilet use is just one of the measures being taken to help prevent pollution from poo.
A community working group, including the Lake Ruataniwha rowing club, campground, local runanga, councils, tourism businesses and the Zone Committee, worked together over winter to make a plan to help keep its local lake safe for recreation this summer.
Four additional toilets have been organised at Lake Ruataniwha by Mackenzie District Council and Environment Canterbury for the peak school holiday period this summer, with long-term plans for a permanent solution.
Extra water monitoring will also be undertaken to better understand potential sources of pollution at Lake Ruataniwha.
Nine other key recreation sites around the Upper Waitaki Lakes are monitored weekly by Environment Canterbury over summer and you can see up-to-date results at www.lawa.org.nz.
District councils in the area will also have their responsible camping ambassadors travelling around the lakes area to encourage best practice behaviour, including camping in the right locations and respecting the environment.
What about pollution from farm animals?
E.coli pollution can also come from farming activity run-off. The Upper Waitaki Water Zone Committee spends a majority of its time advising, requesting scientific advice and making recommendations on projects that focus on improving the impact of farming activity on the lakes.
These include facilitating a better understanding of rules and regulations relating to water quality, encouraging on-farm Good Management Practices, and making funding recommendations for biodiversity projects such as wetland protection.
Addressing visitor impacts
Simon Cameron adds: “Love Our Lakes is the key area where we focus on the visitor impacts on our water quality. Just one small incident, like littering, can have a huge consequence when repeated en masse.
“Visitor numbers are still increasing – despite COVID-19 restrictions. It’s going to be a full-on summer for our lakes and we want to do all we can, as a bunch of locals that have lived here a long time, to look after our precious lakes and waterways.”
Other ways to Love Our Lakes
Being responsible when going to the toilet is just one of the ways people can respect the environment and the Committee will continue to share its other summer-time Love Our Lakes messages.
The simple things everyone can do to Love Our Lakes are to get rid of any rubbish responsibly, wash clothes or dishes away from the lake, and take measures not to spread aquatic weeds (Check, Clean Dry).
Following these steps will reduce your impact on the water quality of our lakes and protect the native plants, animals and birds that live here as well.
Look out for Love Our Lakes this summer
- Four extra toilets at Lake Ruataniwha during the busy school holiday season.
- 'One Poo Can Close the Lake' posters around campgrounds and shops in Upper Waitaki
- An awesome competition on the Environment Canterbury Facebook page to win a picnic pack with all the goodies you need to Love Our Lakes
- Responsible Camping Ambassadors with some special Love Our Lakes items for best behaved campers and their furry friends
- Environment Canterbury’s water monitoring team out and about taking weekly samples at key swimming spots