By Jason Collie

An army of volunteers may join the fight against pollution on Auckland City beaches.

The council wants the "beachwatchers" to join its staff monitoring the health of bathing water next summer.

Its works committee has approved the idea, along with a $50,000 water-quality monitoring programme. Testing will be extended to include 18 swimming spots next summer.

Only four eastern suburbs beaches were tested last summer after the Auckland Regional Council stopped its monitoring programme.

The ARC halted the surveys - saving about $100,000 a year - because it had enough data on the water quality of the region's beaches.

Maurice Hoban, a city council environmental policy analyst, said that although it was too early to say exactly what community volunteers would do, he hoped the scheme would be similar to one run in Melbourne.

Volunteers would be given forms to record how much litter was on a beach and the colour and smell of the water. Mr Hoban said he hoped to have at least some city beaches covered next summer.

"It promotes community ownership and makes people more aware of what impact they have on water quality," he said. "I can see a beach warden changing warning signs as a definite possibility."

Mr Hoban will contact other district councils, the ARC and Auckland Healthcare about a coordinated, region-wide monitoring and sign system.

He said he believed signs warning swimmers about health risks should be the same across the region to make it easier for the public to recognise them.

One design that councillors saw was based on signs advising of forest-fire risks. A pointer showed whether it was safe to swim, whether the beach was being monitored or whether swimming was not safe. Mr Hoban said the example was one of many potential designs.

Swimming spots to be monitored include Waikowhai, Blockhouse Bay, Pt Chevalier, Herne Bay, Westhaven, the Viaduct Harbour, Okahu Bay, Mission Bay, Kohimarama, St Heliers, Pt England, Oneroa, Palm Beach, Surfdale and three beaches on Great Barrier Island.