That seems to be the motto of the District Health Board and the Regional Council.

With a headline last Wednesday that literally screamed — Children scream from rash after Lake Tutira swimHB Today reported the plight of several families who took a swim in the lake in the days after Boxing Day.

Several adults and children — all of whom had the misfortune of getting in the water — suffered painful rashes over areas that had been exposed to the water.

While the families were enjoying the lake, the water was tested (the responsibility of the Regional Council) and as one camper reported to the newspaper, “the guy said it was ‘perfectly fine’”. Presumably HBRC can explain what testing it conducts that yields such instantaneous — and apparently inaccurate — assessments on contaminated water. Perhaps it’s Councillor Ewan McGregor’s “I can see my toes” test, which is his barometer for the quality of the Tukituki.

And then there’s the ever-vigilant public health section of the HB District Health Board. The DHB doesn’t test the water itself (reflecting a division of labour decided nationally between the Ministries for Health and the Environment), yet it is responsible for adjudging whether water is dangerous to human health. So it relies on the measurements of HBRC. It’s not clear what would happen if our local DHB lost confidence in the Regional Council’s monitoring process or results.

In this case, the relevant DHB staffer told HB Today that “‘it’s always been known’ that Lake Tutira was not a swimming place, but a recreational place”.

So, let’s understand this.

A lake that apparently  is never suitable for swimming has no signs warning people against swimming. But that’s OK, says the DHB … locals should know better, and who cares about visitors just passing through … its our lake after all!

But, giving the DHB the benefit of the doubt, maybe I’m the only one, being a confessed non-native, who would not know that ‘recreation’ at a waterway does not include swimming.

If one had a suspicion that the lack of any warning (or otherwise) signs at the lake, the internet-savvy could always check the Regional Council’s website, as I just did (look for this section of B 4 U Swim).

But again, I’m left befuddled.

If you check on the status of Lake Tutira there, you get a mixed message.

One side of the chart says: “Suitability for recreation: Very Poor” And that provides a hotlink leading to an explanation that the water probably contains human or animal faeces in it and recommending folks to “avoid” swimming in it.

However, the other side of the same listing awards Lake Tutira a “Green Mode” rating, which “Indicates there is minimal health risk for recreational activities involving contact with water.”

So if the vacationing family from Dannevirke got to Lake Tutira, saw no warning signs, but still being cautious, used their satellite access to hook up to the HBRC website, which signal should they have believed?

The passivity of the DHB in situations like this is something BayBuzz has questioned before. They are responsible for protecting public health, and that includes protecting us from water-borne disease. Yet they leave themselves totally at the mercy of the Regional Council in terms of getting the relevant water quality tests. Pray that the worst outcome is only a rash.

The Regional Councillors were up at Lake Tutira back in November for a barbeque. With summer approaching, perhaps they could have thrown a few warning signs in the back of the van! No wait, isn’t sign-posting the DHB’s job? I’m so confused.

Tom Belford

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