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Waterways pollution

Water pollution occurs when harmful substances contaminate a water body such as a stream, river, lake, ocean, or aquifer. The harmful substance degrades the water quality causing it to be toxic to humans and/or the environment.

Types of water pollution

There are two types of water pollution sources:

Point source pollution is a discharge or outflow of water pollution coming from an identifiable location such as a pipe. Examples include:

  • wastewater discharged legally or illegally by a manufacturer, or wastewater treatment facility
  • contamination from leaking septic systems, chemical and oil spills and illegal dumping.

Non-point source or diffuse pollution is when the water pollution doesn’t come from one identifiable source. For example, runoff from agricultural and urban sources that enter a waterway from many points, including stormwater drains.

In urban areas, runoff flowing into waterways through stormwater drains carries pollutants from:

  • garden fertilisers, chemicals and soil from gardens
  • lead, oil and tyre rubber from roads
  • bacteria and micro-organisms from animal droppings
  • litter items such as plastic bags, drink containers, food wrappers and cigarette butts.

Agriculture, forestry management and new developments can lead to land clearance and excavation, causing erosion. After a rainfall event, surface water runoff carries soil, as well as fertilisers and chemicals into creeks and rivers. This can cause silt to build up in the waterway, algal blooms  and the death of aquatic plants and animals

Effects of water pollution

The effects of water pollution vary and can depend on the type of pollutant. Water pollution can result in human health problems, poisoned wildlife and environmental damage.

Human health

Infectious diseases can through contaminated water. Chemicals in the water can also have negative effects on our health. Sewage, for example, can discharge into coastal waters which may wash up on beaches causing a health hazard. People who swim in these areas can fall ill if they swallow polluted water. Sewage can also have harmful effects on aquatic wildlife such as shellfish. People who consume poisoned shellfish risk suffering from serious shellfish poisoning.

Death of animals and environmental damage

Algal blooms created by excess nutrients from industry and agriculture runoff cause areas of low oxygen. Fish and aquatic life cannot thrive in such conditions.

Rubbish often finds its way into waterways through stormwater drains. This pollution, e.g. plastics, can choke and kill animals living in or near waterways.

Preventing water pollution

Water quality monitoring alone is not enough to ensure the health of our waterways. We can take a few easy steps to reduce our contribution to water pollution. These include:

  • Reduce your plastic consumption and reuse or recycle plastic when you can.
  • Limit the use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. Make sure the chemicals don’t wash into stormwater drains.
  • Don’t dump garden and lawn clippings near waterways.
  • Mulch garden beds to reduce water needs.
  • Install a garden timer which turns off water after a set period of time.
  • Properly dispose of chemical cleaners, oils and non-biodegradable items to keep them from ending up down the drain.
  • Take care when refuelling and maintaining boats. Avoid spilling fuel and oils.
  • Empty boat sewage holding tanks at sewage collectors or at a council-approved location.
  • Place rubbish in garbage bins and recycle wherever possible.
  • Collect, store and recycle used car motor oil, paints or solvents. Don’t put it down the sewer or stormwater drain.
  • Buy detergents, cleaning agents and washing powders which are low in phosphates.
  • Wash cars on the lawn and not on the driveway or road. This minimises the amount of detergents running down the stormwater drain.
  • Save water by fixing dripping taps. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. Install dual-flush toilets. Sweep paths and driveways instead of hosing.

Reporting waterway pollution

It is very important to protect our Gold Coast waterways. Please report any evidence of pollution as soon as possible.

Local government – waterway pollution causing a nuisance

If you become aware of pollutants in a waterway in your local area visit our Report a problem - Pollution page. You can let us know by completing our online form, or calling 07 5667 5988 or 1800 637 000 (after hours).

State government – serious environmental harm

The City investigates most water pollution incidents under the Environmental Protection Act 1994. This responsibility is shared with other government agencies. The Department of Environment and Science will intervene and help with major environmental incidents.

If you become aware of serious or material environmental harm, contact the Department's 24 hour Pollution Hotline on 1300 130 372.

Waterways monitoring

Our Catchment Management Unit (CMU) undertakes water quality monitoring programs for a range of waterways across the Gold Coast.

Monitoring our water environment throughout the City's waterways also includes the ecosystems, estuaries and groundwater sources that feed into these waterways.

For information about this program and the health of our waterways, contact the CMU on 1300 GOLDCOAST (1300 465 326) or 07 5582 8211 or by emailing

Further information and references

Department of Environment and Science (2019), Caring for our water. Accessed online

National Geographic (2015), Water Pollution, explained. Accessed online

Click to enlarge
Assorted rubbish in a dried up waterway
Brown water full of silt runoff rushing along a creek
Cyanobacteria algal bloom

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