PEOPLE who draw their drinking water from the Bega and Brogo Rivers are being advised to boil it for one minute before consumption because of concerns over faecal coliform levels.

The warning from Bega Valley Shire Council’s environmental services manager, Mr Danny Madigan, follows preliminary investigations by the Department of Land and Water Conservation that indicate faecal coliform levels in the river system are above the relevant NSW Government guidelines.

Senior environmental health officer with the Southern NSW Public Health Unit, Ms Melissa Langhorne, has confirmed council’s advice and has recommended that landowners use rainwater wherever possible.

The Department has advised that as many as 40 riparian households are believed to use river water for domestic purposes with little or no disinfection treatment.

The presence of faecal coliforms in the water indicates that other harmful organisms may also be present.

Infection can result in health problems such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis, diarrhoea, ear infections and skin rashes.

Senior natural resource office with the Department of Land and Water Conservation in Bega, Mr Don McPhee, said a regular monitoring program had been conducted at “Warragaburra” on the lower Bega River since 1996 to help understand the overall health of the catchment.

Faecal coliform levels were included in the monitoring program in 1997.

He said the results from monthly sampling over the past three years had indicated that there was some bacterial contamination in the catchment.

Mr McPhee said the Department of Land and Water Conservation had conducted a preliminary investigation earlier this year to provide more information on faecal coliform levels in the Bega River catchment generally and to identify potential sources.

Council supported the investigation by completing lab analysis and providing technical assistance through the South Coast Water Quality Monitoring Project Officer, Ms Suzanne Gray.

Mr Madigan said that although only two sampling runs had been conducted to date and the report had not yet been made available to the public, “the preliminary data would indicate that faecal coliforms may impact on human health”.

He said additional sampling of the river was now proposed to identify sources of the faecal coliforms.

This is likely to be done in conjunction with a task group to be established by the Department of Land and Water Conservation to examine the sources of the faecal coliforms and possible solutions.

Mr Madigan said the identification process would not be easy “as the sources are likely to be diffused and solutions difficult to implement”.

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