What was once one of Sydney Harbour’s most polluted areas is on track to open as a swimming spot next summer.
A machine, with close to real-time water quality monitoring, will determine when it’s safe for swimmers to take a dip.
The set up at Pirrama Park in Pyrmont will test the water quality every 15 minutes in a trial of new technology that will be key to expanding swimming areas in the Harbour and the Parramatta River.
The AUD$70,000 ColiMinder, which cost another AUD$160,000 to install, is already operating at other urban swimming sites in Europe and North America and will be used at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games to monitor water quality in the Seine for the triathlon.
Swimming in the inner-city area that lies just to the west of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was once unimaginable. Along with Balmain and Glebe, it hosted the majority of Sydney Harbour’s waterfront industry, from whaling in the early 1800s to the abattoirs, soap and detergent factories that came later.
Since regulations were introduced to control industry pollution and sewerage systems improved, efforts have been underway to rehabilitate the marine environment.
A recent step towards this rehabilitation is the introduction of environmental monitoring at Pirrama Park. Known as the Coli Minder, this water quality monitoring device will help ensure sites around Sydney can eventually be declared safe for swimming.
The ColiMinder machine measures enterococci levels in the water, which are linked to gastrointestinal illness. It will also be able to detect pollution incidents early.
“Currently it takes up to three days for a laboratory to culture bacteria and count the colonies using traditional sampling and analysis techniques.” said Renee Ingram – Sydney Water Head of Western Sydney Development.
“The ColiMinder in comparison is a fully automated system which measures microbiological contamination of liquid samples within 15 minutes. It obtains samples from the water and can take up to 84 measurements per day.”
Sydney Water is currently in the process of validating the ColiMinder’s output, which is being done by their labs staff using a round of spiked samples and triplicate dilutions between their laboratory and the machine. While it’s too early to assess the results from the ColiMinder trial, authorities are confident the water will be ready for swimming by the summer of 2023/24.
In addition to the ColiMinder system, Sydney Water has also implemented three Aqualabo ponsel sensors to measure the local turbidity, conductivity and temperature of the water. They have also upgraded the wastewater system around Pirrama Park to prevent stormwater entering and causing surges of pollution. Furthermore, the local council is working on reducing stormwater pollution entering the harbour, including installing rain gardens, wetlands and swales across the network.
Until the results are finalized, people are advised to hold off from jumping in at Pyrmont.