New detection system revolutionises water quality tests

Students on an Environmental Health Monitoring course at Massey University in Wellington are the first in the country to use a new rapid automated microbiology detection system to monitor water quality.

The students used the TECTA B16 system to detect Total coliforms and E.coli in drinking water and river water samples from a range of sites in the Wellington region.

Stan Abbott, course supervisor and leader of Massey’s Roof Water Harvesting Centre, said the students quickly familiarised themselves with the sophisticated workings of the TECTA B16 machine.

“In this digital age our students are all so tech savvy, they understood how to operate the machine with a minimum of fuss, much like them using a new computer or smartphone for the first time,” he says.

Havelock North waterborne disease outbreak last year, when more than 5,000 people contracted Campylobacter, highlighted the need for fast and accurate water quality monitoring tests.

“This new monitoring system is relevant also to the E.coli threshold level, which has been hotly debated around the Government’s recent launch of its new Clean Water policy,” Mr Abbott says.

“There has been an endless tide of opinions about the risks that will confront the public when they swim in many of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes, proving that water quality safety for both drinking and swimming in is paramount.”

Mr Abbott said the major advantages of the TECTA B16 automated detection system include:

• A complete, self-contained desktop, touch screen control automated microbiology testing system that is simple to operate and does not require specially qualified personnel.

• Minimal handling of samples and no sample preparation is required. A test can be initiated anytime, while all samples do not have to be loaded into the machine at the same time.

• Full automation of the test analysis and interpretation processes eliminates the need for subjective, visual interpretation of results. An objective, written test report is produced automatically for each sample tested.

Another big advantage is that the machine automatically transmits the data through a network connection to allow immediate notification on electronic devices, such as cell phones or laptops, as soon as a contaminated water sample is detected.

Total coliform and E.coli results are available in two to 18 hours, depending on the level of contamination in the water sample. This immediate notification and early warning of positive sample results as soon as they occur should revolutionise water testing,” he says.

The TECTA B16 system received United States Environmental Protection Agency approval in 2014 and the New Zealand Ministry of Health approved the system for testing drinking water samples for compliance in August 2016.

Three water-testing agencies in New Zealand so far have bought the system.


What scientists know about the effects of agriculture on NZ water quality

A post by NIWA scientist Dr Bob Wilcock at Sciblogs (here) asks: How does agriculture affect New Zealand’s water quality?

About 40% of the land area of New Zealand is in some form of agriculture, he points out. Sheep and beef farming are the most extensive (33%) followed by dairy farming at 6%, and the remainder being horticulture and cropping.

Dr Wilcock is a NIWA Principal Scientist and Programme Leader.

He writes:

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Minister is encouraged by the picture painted by two new water reports

Environment Minister Amy Adams has welcomed the release of two environmental water reports, saying they paint an encouraging picture of the country’s waterways but also underline the need for the Government’s freshwater reforms.

The indicator reports on river conditions and swimming suitability were released by the Ministry for the Environment.

The river condition indicator is based on data that was collected across more than 300 regional council and NIWA-monitored sites over a 10-year period (2000-2010), out of the tens of thousands of waterways across New Zealand.

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US study finds cattle grazing and clean water are compatible on public lands

Research by the University of California, Davis, has found cattle grazing and clean water can coexist on national forest lands.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, is described by ScienceDaily (here) as the most comprehensive examination of water quality on National Forest public grazing lands in the US to date.

“There’s been a lot of concern about public lands and water quality, especially with cattle grazing,” said lead author Leslie Roche, a postdoctoral scholar in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “We’re able to show that livestock grazing, public recreation and the provisioning of clean water can be compatible goals.”

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