The Terrigal and Coastal Lagoons Audit is a comprehensive water quality improvement program being undertaken in partnership between Central Coast Council and the NSW Government’s Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (the Department).
The Audit is investigating water quality at Terrigal Beach, Terrigal Haven, Terrigal Lagoon, Wamberal Lagoon, Avoca Lagoon and Cockrone Lagoon. A team of scientists from the Department and from Council are working collaboratively with technical experts and operational staff to assess possible sources of pollution in each catchment, determine the impact on long-term water quality, and prioritise remediation works.
To find out more about this project and assist in the identification of potential sources of pollution you can:
- view the Frequently Asked Questions
- see what works have already been identified or completed as part of this process
- view the key documents associated with the Audit including summary reports, data information and report concepts
How can you help?
The health of our waterways is dependent on the health of the broader catchment areas – whatever comes down the rivers or enters the stormwater, ends up in our waterways and can have good or bad impacts. Our personal actions can directly affect the health of our waterways, not only right where we live or work but all the way to the estuaries and ocean. By working together, we can all do our bit to improve and protect our beautiful coastal areas now, and for the future. We have developed the Waterways fact sheet to inform the community on how they can assist in the ongoing health of our waterways:
Council will continue to share the progress of the audit program through information shared on this page and on the interactive map.
** Comments that were dropped on the interactive map or submitted via on the online form will not be made publicly visible. This is to avoid publicly identifying private properties. However please note under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act), members of the public have a right to access certain information held by Council except in instances where there is an overriding public interest against disclosure.**
In response to persistent poor water quality result at Terrigal Beach, Council commenced an Audit.
The NSW Government announced $500,000 to investigate water quality at Terrigal and the coastal lagoons.
We are fixing problems as we find them. You can see completed and planned work on our interactive map.
A report summarising the first 20 days of sampling at Terrigal was released by Council.
A team of over 30 staff from both organisations were trained in safe and effective sample collection during wet weather. This allows us to cover large areas of the catchment in a single rain event to assess water quality and identify problem areas.
The Government funded report identifies likely sources of contamination using cutting edge DNA analysis.
The community is invited to assist in the audit process by making a report about any possible sources of pollution.
An update report summarising the first 56 days of sampling at Terrigal is scheduled for completion in in February 2020 by Council.
The next combined report is scheduled for completion in September 2020. In the meantime, check out our interactive map to see what’s happening and where.
The catchment audit and remediation work will likely extend beyond June 2020 and we are rolling out the program to other key locations across the Central Coast. Refer to Council’s website for future updates.
What are the NSW Government doing with Council?
The NSW Government and Central Coast Council are working together to address poor recreational water quality at Terrigal Beach and surrounding areas. Central Coast Council is currently conducting a catchment audit for Terrigal Beach to identify sources of pollution and find solutions to improve water quality.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is supporting work being undertaken by Council by
employing innovative DNA based techniques to identify whether sources of faecal contamination in the
catchment come from human or animal sources. This will enable targeted mitigation measures to be
developed to improve water quality at Terrigal. The major audit by the NSW Government and Central Coast
Council will assess the off-shore zone where swimmers cross to Terrigal Haven, assess hydrological
mechanisms driving microbial movement, reservoirs for bacteria and their response to environmental
conditions, volume and microbial load or broader environmental impacts from other pollution sources in the
catchment. It is evident that further sampling of ocean conditions is needed to understand the hydrodynamics
of Terrigal Beach and Terrigal Haven in response to lagoon openings.
What is Central Coast Council doing about water quality in Terrigal Beach?
In January 2019, Council commenced the Terrigal Catchment Audit.
The Terrigal Catchment Audit is a comprehensive program undertaken as a partnership between Council and the NSW Government. The audit is assessing possible sources of pollution within the Terrigal Catchment and their impacts on long term water quality in the Beach, Lagoon and Haven.
The audit extends the Beachwatch program sampling to assess water quality right along the beach from the
Lagoon to the Haven and is designed to move systematically up through the catchment, testing and
investigating both the sewer and stormwater networks to understand pollution sources and identify solutions.
How long will the audit take to complete and when will we see the water quality improve?
There is currently no timeframe available for the completion of the Terrigal Catchment Audit.
Catchment audits are a complex process which need to be managed adaptively in response to data, as pollution can come from just one, or thousands, of sources. The process of identifying sources of pollution requires a systematic sampling program with various factors affecting predicted timeframes including:
- Possible detection of various sources of pollution.
- Timeframes required to receive testing results for reliable indicators of pollution.
- Water sampling needing to be conducted in both dry and wet weather to understand pollution variants.
- Detection and repair of cracks or illegal connections in stormwater and sewer systems.
- Collection and analysis of data by trained scientists to assess outcomes as information arises.
- After works are completed, it will take some time to determine if the improvements have made a difference to water quality. This is due to a range of factors including natural variability, the presence of natural sources of bacteria which may affect results, and the length of time required to collect enough samples to meet the requirements of the Beachwatch Program.
The Beachwatch Program and State of the Beaches Report results are based on 100 samples at a given location as specified by the National Health and Medical Research Council (2008) Guidelines for Managing Risks in Recreational Waters. On the Central Coast, Beachwatch samples are collected weekly during the swimming season and fortnightly during the cooler months. Consequently, it can take up to three years to collect 100 samples and for the improvements to show in the State of the Beaches Report.
To allow Council to measure water quality improvements in the interim, we sample regularly at pipes as they enter the beach. The results from this sampling program will more clearly and quickly assess if water quality from the pipes has improved in response to remediation works and improved catchment management. Any improvements to water quality will be reported as part of the audit.
Data collected by Council as part of the Beachwatch program is used to inform the annual NSW State of the Beaches Report, in which Terrigal Beach has received a “Poor” rating since 2011-12.
Beachwatch uses long-term environmental trends to highlight areas of concern, which may then trigger further investigation. Beachwatch is not comprehensive enough to determine the source or scale of the factors affecting water quality which is why the Terrigal Catchment Audit was initiated.
In January 2019, Council commenced the Terrigal Catchment Audit. The aim of this initial audit is to assess microbial contamination as a risk to swim safety at Terrigal Beach and Terrigal Haven.
The audit extends the Beachwatch program sampling to assess water quality right along the beach from the Lagoon to the Haven and is designed to move systematically up through the catchment, testing and investigating both the sewer and stormwater networks to understand pollution sources and identify solutions.
The Terrigal Catchment Audit is funded by Council, with the NSW Government also committing $500,000 to investigating water quality at Terrigal and the coastal lagoons as part of a major, more comprehensive audit.
Why the Coastal Lagoons?
Council commenced an ecological health monitoring program in all Central Coast waterways in 2017-18. The data collected as part of this program identified water quality concerns at Avoca Lagoon. In addition to this, the Beachwatch program also routinely identifies poor water quality at the coastal lagoons, however this is not unusual for estuary and lagoon sites which are less well flushed than open beaches.
Following the NSW Government’s funding commitment, research began into the water quality at the Coastal Lagoons to understand these complex ecosystems. Council and the Department are working together to investigate water quality in the lagoons and throughout the catchments during dry and wet weather. This is no small task! The catchment areas are very large, each with thousands of kilometres of stormwater and sewer pipes and large waterway areas. A large team of staff from both organisations are getting out in the rain to sample the catchments and identify any problem areas. Council is also undertaking comprehensive infrastructure assessments throughout these catchments using remote cameras, dye testing, smoke testing and inspection by foot.
How does the stormwater at Terrigal compare to guidelines for water quality?
Australian water quality guidelines for receiving waters (rivers, lakes, lagoons) cannot be used to assess stormwater.
There are no universal guidelines for stormwater water quality, however there are processes for determining a guideline for stormwater quality that protects local environments.
Central Coast Council is in open discussions with the NSW Government about developing guidelines for stormwater for the Terrigal area. This process requires site specific research and will take time to develop.
When developed, the stormwater guidelines will take into account the values being protected, dilution, natural resilience and sensitivity of receiving environments.
Specific guidelines need to be developed based on catchment conditions and the required level of service from the water.
Central Coast Council does not recommend that people have direct contact with stormwater.
Why is there bacteria in the water?
Bacterial contamination can arise from a variety of sources such as faeces from dogs, cows, ducks and seagulls, cats, marsupials and rabbits. Bacteria may also be from sewer, if underground sewer pipes are cracked, or if heavy rainfall causes an overflow of sewer which is washed into our waterways.
Poor water quality in urban areas is not a new phenomenon, and is a common issue in both developed and
What are the primary causes of blockage or overflows in our sewerage system?
Tree roots and the flushing of inappropriate items are the main causes of partial and total blockages in our
It’s brown water, is it sewage?
If it looks like sewage and smells like sewage - it is not necessarily sewage.
People often mistake brown and smelly ocean water as sewage and often the reported sewage is an algae
bloom. People should report both algae blooms and possible sewage to Council immediately so they can be
investigated. Council does not recommend swimming in or near an algae bloom.
Is that raw sewage/effluent in the lagoon or ocean?
Dirty or pungent water does not indicate raw or treated sewage. There are many possible reasons water may
look and smell bad, including natural process. Rotting vegetation, seaweed and algae blooms can smell bad
and lead to discoloured water, such as red, pink, yellow, brown, white or grey/green. Rotting seaweed and
algae blooms may also look like dirty water or a foam or oil slick on the surface. Council does not recommend
swimming in or near an algae bloom.
Is that raw sewage/effluent in the stormwater pipes?
Dirty or pungent water does not indicate raw or treated sewage. There are many possible reasons why water
may look and smell bad, including activities such as car washing, fertilising gardens, erosion and decomposing
vegetation. Materials in water from catchment activities provide good conditions for natural bacteria to grow
and the decomposition may cause a smell. These processes can lead to red, pink, yellow, brown, white or
grey/green discolouration and may or may not be associated with a foamy appearance and pungent smell.
Is ammonia a direct indicator of sewage input?
Ammonia is one possible indicator of sewage input however, ammonia is naturally occurring and may also be present in stormwater in response to a range of natural and catchment landuse factors including decomposing organic material, pet waste, wildlife waste, fertilisers and atmospheric ammonia.
To detect sewage input, ammonia testing needs to be paired with bacteria testing and more direct and reliable tests such as trace pharmaceuticals e.g. testing for painkillers, anti-inflammatories and caffeine.
Sample collection and analysis needs to be conducted under quality controlled conditions. For all of Council’s
monitoring programs, samples are collected by professional scientists and analysis is undertaken by accredited
laboratories. This ensures the accuracy of the information. Test kits available to the community such as pool
tests are not accurate for the purposes of testing stormwater or environmental waters.
What role does Council play in maintaining our sewerage network?
Council manages more than 320 sewerage pumping stations and eight sewage treatment plants which treat over 80 million litres of sewage on the Central Coast every day.
Over the next four years we are rolling out significant upgrade and expansion works across our sewerage network including an $11million region-wide project to renew targeted gravity sewer infrastructure.
Like all infrastructure, sewer pipelines will intermittently require repair and we are also using an innovative
technique to rehabilitate damaged sewer pipelines. We are inserting liners into the existing pipe to reinforce it
and seal any leaks which reduces the risk of future damage, reduces repair costs and can help eliminate the
need to excavate, minimising disruption on the community.
Can we get the data from the audit?
Council is not currently releasing data due to the sensitive nature of the project.
The data may directly or indirectly identify houses or businesses with known or unknown breaks in sewer pipes or illegal connections. If private property is implicated throughout the audit, Council will provide an opportunity for people to do the right thing. If private landowners do not fix illegal connections or cracks affecting stormwater, Council will commence regulatory actions.
Where Council infrastructure is identified as a source of pollution, these locations will be immediately scheduled for infrastructure refurbishment, with outcomes officially reported and made public.
Ocean based water quality data will be available on request for the period covered in official reports.
What should you do if you suspect a sewerage block or overflow in your area?
When alleged blockages and overflows are reported, our primary concern is the health and safety of the public
and the environment. We have crews on standby 24 hours a day, 365 days a year so please call Council
immediately – day or night – on 1300 463 954 if you experience water or sewerage concerns.
What can you do to help?
The health of the Central Coast’s waterways is dependent on the health of the broader catchment areas – whatever comes down the rivers or enters the stormwater, ends up in our waterways and can have good or bad impacts. Our personal actions can directly affect the health of our waterways, not only right where we live or work but all the way to the estuaries and ocean. By working together, we can all do our bit to improve and protect our beautiful coastal areas now, and for the future.
You can help the project directly by:
- Coming along to a pop-up or drop-in event
- Adding a pin to our map, to let us know about any possible source of pollution you know about
- Letting your friends and family know where they can find out more about the audit.
Simple daily actions can have a big impact on water quality and our local environment. Some of the things we can all do at home, work or school are:
- Only ever flush the three Ps down your porcelain throne – Poo, Pee and Paper – Everything else needs to go in the appropriate bin. Flushing things down drains and toilets like cooking waste including food scraps, fats and oils, cigarette butts, nappies, dental floss, sanitary items, cotton buds, stickers on fruit, and wipes – even if they are labelled ‘flushable’ can cause significant damage.
- If you suspect a sewer blockage or overflow in your area, please remain safe and call Council immediately – day or night – on 1300 463 954. We have crews on standby 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to manage water or sewerage concerns.
- ‘Dial before you Dig’ – a free national referral service which can be accessed online to assist in preventing damage and disruption to our vast infrastructure networks.
- Put litter, pet droppings and garden waste in the bin – this will stop pollution before it occurs and keep our waterways and foreshores clean and tidy for everyone to enjoy.
- Wash your car on the grass or better still, at a car wash – this will reduce the amount of chemicals and detergent entering the stormwater system.
- Build a rain garden or install a rainwater tank to capture and reuse runoff from rooftops and hardstand areas.
- Use less fertiliser on your lawn or grow a native garden which doesn’t need as much fertiliser – this helps reduce the nutrients entering the waterways which can cause algal blooms.
- Get involved! Protect saltmarsh, wetlands and bushland first hand by joining your local Landcare group.
Keeping our waterways healthy is the responsibility of everyone who lives in, works in or visits the catchment. We all impact the lakes, let’s make our impacts positive.
What happens next?
This project is the first of its kind on the Central Coast. It is designed to provide a framework for future audits in our local area and to find real solutions to the water quality issues in these locations.
The project will identify priority sub-catchments and a list of remediation works for Council to deliver. However, it is important to note that we are also fixing problems as we go. Council staff have already discovered numerous damaged pipes which are scheduled for repair; some of which have already been completed. We will keep an up-to-date map of works on this website, so that the community can easily track actions arising from the audit project.
If we find large, complex or expensive problems, we will be working to schedule and fund them as soon as possible.