The water at the Sydney International Regatta Centre and Penrith Whitewater Stadium flows in from the urban and industrial catchments to the east and south of the Penrith Lakes Scheme. Rain and stormwater flow from the catchments into a series of small lakes to the east and south of the Regatta Centre. Water is usually held in the eastern lakes to allow natural processes to ‘clean up’ the water to make it suitable for swimming and boating.
Successive wet years (2021-2022) have seen more water at the Regatta Centre lakes than at any time since its construction in 1996. This wet weather and repeated flooding in the local catchment has brought lots of nutrients into the lakes, meaning there is ‘food’ available for algae and aquatic weeds.
The lakes, while man-made, are aquatic ecosystems that support a range of organisms including plants, algae, fish, insects, and birds. The water is not directly treated to manage algal blooms or other water quality events, as this negatively impacts the water quality in the longer term.
In the past, the Regatta Centre has experienced dense aquatic weed outbreaks and persistent algal blooms. Weed outbreaks make both boating and swimming difficult and dangerous. The Regatta Centre management treat weed outbreaks to minimise the risk to people using the lakes.
What is Blue Green Algae?
Blue green algae (cyanobacteria) naturally occur in all waterways around the world, and form part of a healthy ecosystem. But when that ecosystem is out of balance, the blue green algae can outcompete other plants and animals and form algal blooms. These algal blooms can be toxic, and may cause skin, ear and eye irritations, gastroenteritis, asthma, eczema and flu-like symptoms. Contact with, inhaling or ingesting blue green algae when swimming or boating in affected waters can have serious health effects, particularly for sensitive people. Therefore, at the Regatta Centre and Penrith Whitewater Stadium we are required to close both venues for recreation when serious algal blooms occur. Additional information regarding Blue Green Algae can be found in this fact sheet (PDF, 1.53 MB).
What is Enterococci?
The Sydney International Regatta Centre lakes also occasionally have elevated numbers of enterococci. Enterococci are bacteria that live in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, including birds and humans. They are commonly used as indicator organisms as they can be associated with faecal contamination of a waterway that can occur from stormwater run-off or sewerage contamination, particularly during heavy rain. Elevated levels of enterococci may also come from natural processes, such as bird droppings. When we have levels that exceed NHMRC and Health guidelines of enterococci, we will inform our stakeholders.
How do we Test Water Quality?
Water quality at the Sydney International Regatta Centre and Penrith Whitewater Stadium is monitored monthly during winter and more frequently during spring and summer to ensure it is safe for events. The Centre management for both venues ensure stakeholders are aware of the water quality results regularly. When water quality events occur, such as algal blooms or elevated enterococci, we increase the frequency of testing and ensure samples are collected and analysed. The test results are provided to Centre management so that decisions can be made on whether the water is safe or unsafe for events and recreation. Occasionally we may recommend avoiding certain areas, or that other hygiene measures such as showering or hand sanitising is employed to make sure people using the lakes are safe. Users can protect themselves by following advice from Centre staff, avoiding areas of green scums, and entering and exiting the water in a safe manner.