Council officials say there is no evidence to show an ear infection suffered by a 4-year-old after swimming at Mission Bay - which previously had a black alert over water quality - was due to water quality.

Auckland Council emails obtained by the Herald on Sunday reveal several instances relating to concerns being raised over the Safeswim website last summer - including potential delays over issues being flagged.

Included in the correspondence was an email from a member of the public asking Auckland Council whether Mission Bay had actually been safe to swim at after the writer's challenge had suffered an ear infection.

Safeswim had sent water was safe at Mission Bay on the day the child went swimming, but the water was deemed safe online on the day the child went in the water and later got an infection.


"I checked your website on Friday 28 December and it showed Mission Bay was green ticked for swimming. My 4-year-old daughter swam there and now has an infection. Please confirm if it was safe that day or not?" the member of the public wrote.

Safeswim staff confirmed in an email a green alert "low risk of illness from swimming" appeared on December 28 when the girl swam at Mission Bay and got the infection.

Safeswim programme manager Nick Vigar told the Herald on Sunday there were "no errors" in the way Safeswim had dealt with the Mission Bay sewage overflow on Christmas day.

"The protocol of 48 hours of high risk alert following a wastewater spill has been developed with the advice of various public health professionals," Vigar said.

"Infections can come from a variety of sources. In the case of one isolated incident it is very difficult to establish whether a case of illness can be attributed to a wastewater spill three days prior. Safeswim received no other reports of illness from beachgoers on that day."

Another issue flagged in the released correspondence, on Boxing Day, was at Omana Beach where the highest-level black alert should have appeared, but instead a green "low risk of illness from swimming" tag remained.

Safeswim staff discussed a draft statement on the missed black alert for the "sewage leak" at the beach because of a burst pipe.

"I think we should have a statement that says a black alert should have occurred on the day in question. We don't have to say whose fault it was," Safeswim programme manager Nick Vigar wrote in a January 7 email.


Vigar told the Herald on Sunday the Omana Beach Safeswim warning error was because of the news of the black "very high risk" symbols, and the failure of separate council department Watercare to issue a manual black droplet alert on the site.

However, an email from Auckland Council stormwater design office manager Konrad Heinemann to Vigar on January 7, revealed an issue of how Watercare could issue this manual alert at the time over Christmas.

"Not an urgent thing but wanted to raise it with you … Over the break Watercare had a burst pipe near Omana Beach (Maraetai), and while they responded and fixed it quickly, the Safeswim website continued to show Omana Beach as safe to swim at," Heinemann wrote to Vigar 12 days later.

"Should Watercare have updated the website with an alert? And, what is the mechanism for us (or a member of the public) to raise an issue like this to get the alert on to the website."

The Safeswim online interface shows tags to categorise the safety of Auckland beaches.
The Safeswim online interface shows tags to categorise the safety of Auckland beaches.

Council emails also revealed a resident complaint to council department Watercare of a burst pipe on Minnehaha Ave, Takapuna, they claim had been leaking "sewer water" and "fatty slime" for three weeks into Thorne Bay without response.

A "major sewage spill" into Moire Creek, Massey, in January was also reported as "leaking for a week or more" before the pipe was repaired.

Another swimming site that repeatedly appeared for discussion was wastewater overflow at Oakley Creek, Waterview, which did not fall under the monitoring of Safeswim - originally reserved for beaches.

A test of the water levels in Oakley Creek cited in one email, from November 2018, identified out of 145 samples, 107 had E. coli levels exceeding guidelines.

Martin Neale from Puhoi Stour who did the testing relays to Safeswim's Vigar in the email, and describes the data as "not good news".

Existing warning signs for swimmers at Oakley Creek were replaced, and on January 10, Vigar said council was looking at turning the temporary warning at Oakley Creek into a permanent long term warning "ASAP".

Vigar noted in an email about Oakley Creek on January 11: "I noticed all the swimmers in the photos. I've been hearing that it's quite popular - which is quite scary given the water quality".

Vigar told the Herald on Sunday the December 2018 Oakley Creek Waterfall contamination was the first time Safeswim was involved in testing freshwater Auckland swimming sites, and reiterated "it is indeed 'scary' that freshwater swimming sites around the region have not historically been part of the Safeswim programme".

"For this reason Safeswim is now monitoring water quality at 27 freshwater sites around the region. These will progressively come on to the Safeswim website, once we have collected sufficient data to accurately understand the water quality," Vigar said.

Temporary health warning signs at Oakley Creek will soon be replaced with permanent signs.