Water Quality

Water Quality Issues for Paddlers

Paddlers don’t often consider water quality issues before getting into their boat, however depending on the type of paddling activity you are involved in it might be as well to give it some thought. It is well known that heavy sustained rain or storm activity can have an effect on water quality. In both urban and rural environments there is an increased risk of human and animal waste entering the waterways which then has the potential to cause harm to recreational water users. Storm and rain run-off may also wash chemicals and road-grime into waterways which are used for recreational paddling.

Paddling as an activity is secondary contact with the water. (see the definition of secondary contact below). Some paddling activity such as white-water, slalom, kayak surfing and canoe polo, may be classified as primary contact. (see the definition of primary contact below)

Please note: Primary contact water activities should be limited after heavy sustained rain or storm activity where greater than 10 mm of rain has fallen.

All paddlers should note that recreational water may contain pathogens. This applies to bodies of water such as lakes, rivers and the marine environment. Pathogens may enter the body through mucous membranes in the eyes, ears, nose or throat or through cuts or abrasions in the skin.

Common infections that people may suffer from contact with poor quality water are eye, ear, nose or throat infections. A common illness is gastroenteritis (from swallowing poor quality water). Some water borne pathogens may cause serious infections or illness and possibly death.

Some simple things that you can do to protect yourself from harm:

  • check rainfall records (for up to 5 days) prior to paddling and limit your water contact to secondary contact if there has been a significant rainfall event (< 10mm);
  • rinse off your skin and in particular head and around eyes, ears, nose and mouth with clean water after immersion occurs;
  • protect your ears from infection by putting a few drops of surgical alcohol in each ear after paddling activity where your head has been immersed
  • rinse your mouth out with good quality drinking (potable) water if you have swallowed any water

All paddlers should use common sense in determining when and where to paddle

Primary Contact (whole body contact) – activity in which the whole body or the face and trunk are frequently immersed or the face is frequently wet by spray, and where it is likely that some water will be swallowed or inhaled, or come into contact with ears, nasal passages, mucous membranes or cuts in the skin (eg swimming, diving, surfing or whitewater canoeing).

Secondary contact (incidental contact) – activity in which only the limbs are regularly wet and in which greater contact (including swallowing water) is unusual (eg boating, fishing, wading), and including occasional and inadvertent immersion through slipping or being swept into the water by a wave.

Pathogens are biological agents such as virus, bacteria, prion or fungus that causes disease to its host. Commonly known as germs.