Big, big news. Australia joined Swim Guide this week (October 2017) with recreational water quality information for the Australian Capital Territory. We now need two hands to count the number of countries on Swim Guide. Australia makes six; Six countries, 2 continents, and over 7000 beaches.

We believe every community should be able to safely touch and enjoy their home waters. People should not get sick from contact with their recreational waters. Thanks to the Australian Capital Territory Government and to the National Capital Authority, the public has even better access to water quality information for the lakes and rivers in Australia’s national capital.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government’s Transport Canberra and City Services monitors water quality conditions in Lake Ginninderra, Lake Tuggeranong, the Molonglo River, Molonglo Reach, the Murrumbidgee River, Paddy’s River and the Cotter River. Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra is monitored by the National Capital Authority (NCA). The lakes in the capital territory (Burley Griffin, Ginninderra, Tuggeranong) are all artificial,typically created when creeks and rivers were damned. Moreover, the lakes were initially designed to serve as filters, catching urban sediment before it reached the important Murrumbidgee River System.

The work of the ACT and NCA is two-fold. Not only are they charged with monitoring the conditions of these water bodies and working to address sources of contamination; The ACT and NCA are also tasked with changing public perception about these lakes and rivers. The ACT’s freshwater treasures can and should be used for recreation.

Can we swim in the ACT’s lakes and rivers?

Photo by Spelio, Murrumbidgee River

Yes, you can definitely swim the bush capital’s lakes and rivers. Water quality in the capital territory’s lakes and rivers has been steadily improving since 2000. Swimmers, paddlers, and fishers are taking advantage of these local recreational gems. From October to April lake water quality is monitored regularly for both indicator bacteria and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), and results are shared widely with the public. The ACT and the NCA’s water quality reports conclude that most of the lakes and rivers in the capital meet water quality standards most of the time.

Lake Burly Griffin is clean enough for swimming most of the time. The lake was open only 77% of the time in 2011-12’s swim season. During 2014-15, the lake was open without restrictions for 94% of the season. (

Lake Ginninderra and Lake Tuggeranong also offers many recreational water opportunities, from swimming, to paddling, to fishing.

The major rivers in the bush capital, such as the Cotter and the Murrumbidgee, not only provide drinking water. They offer ample recreational opportunities.

Water Quality in Australia’s National Capital Territory

Ongoing urban development, climate change and a lack of awareness about the activities that affect water quality are putting the health of our waterways at risk.
-ACT Healthy Waterways Project

So much about Australia is unique, except when it comes to sources of water pollution. Similar to Canada, the US, and other countries on Swim Guide, contaminated stormwater is the biggest source of pollution in the ACT’s waterbodies. Waterways are not always open for business due to the impact of contaminated stormwater.

Water quality at Lake Tuggeranong, for example, has long been susceptible to blue-green algae blooms; The lake was closed for 42 consequetive days in 2014-2015. Tuggeranong’s water source consists predominantly of urban stormwater drains. As a result, soil and sediment run-off, organic matter, litter and dog poop make their way into the small lake. Consequently, the quality of the water flowing into the small lake is often poor, and conditions are perfect for blue-green algae blooms.

Tuggeranong overflows into the Murrumbidgee River, which is also sometimes used to supply drinking water to Canberra. Similarly, Lake Burley Griffin and Lake Ginninderra are susceptible to high bacteria levels and algal blooms. Contaminated run-off and climate fluctuations put these waterbodies at risk of poor water quality.

Photo by Allan Sharp, Lake Tuggeranong

What’s the plan?

In order to address the sources of the water quality issues the ACT, along with the Australian Government, launched the ACT Healthy Waterways project. The Project will protect and improve long-term water quality in the ACT and in the vulnerable Murrumbidgee River system, which is located downstream to ACT’s lakes. The 80 million dollar project is part of the larger Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The project’s key focus is to improve water quality higher up in the catchment “where rainwater becomes stormwater.”

The project involves the construction of ponds, wetlands, rain gardens and swales, and the restorations of creeks, and the reconnection of channels. Healthy Waterways is prioritizes the reduction nutrients, sediment and pollutants entering ACT waterways. Further, there are carp-removal projects for the ACT’s the lakes and ponds.

The Lake Burley Griffin Action Plan, one of the ACT’s waterways strategies, has set it sights on a Healthier, Better Functioning Lake by 2030.

The exciting plans to address water quality woes have at their heart a swimmable, drinkable, fishable future for the bush capital’s waterways.

Photo by Cazz, Lake Burley Griffin

Where to swim in Australia’s Capital Territory

  • Lake Ginninderra
  • Lake Tuggeranong
  • Molonglo River
  • Molonglo Reach
  • Murrumbidgee River
  • Paddy’s River
  • Cotter River
  • Lake Burley Griffin
  • Links

    Australia Capital Territory beaches
    National Capital Authority beaches on Lake Burley Griffin
    ACT Healthy Waterways

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