Until the 1930’s, Lake Parramatta was a popular swimming area with Australia’s largest Freshwater Lifesaving Club to oversee swimmer safety. However in the 1940’s, the lake was closed due to increasing pollution levels. In 2014, the Parramatta River Catchment Group (PRCG), committed to a vision to make the Parramatta River and it’s catchment swimmable again by 2025. Following decades of catchment works to improve water quality, the Lake was finally reopened to swimming in 2015. The number of visitors has increased by 400% in the last three years, illustrating how popular natural swimming can be, and strongly supports the PRCG’s vision to make other locations swimmable across the Parramatta River catchment.
The Western part of the Sydney metropolitan area is highly urbanised and by 2050, it is estimated that an additional 4 million people will be living in, or near the Parramatta River catchment. The Eastern part of Sydney is well served with numerous ocean beaches, but for people in Western Sydney it is a long, sometimes hot, expensive and difficult journey to reach these areas. Council highlighted the lack of outdoor swimming opportunities in the Western Sydney Region as a priority. Since opening in 2015, the high number of people visiting the swimming area is a testament that there is a large untapped demand for local natural swimming areas in the western part of Sydney.
As part of the City of Parramatta’s (CoP) commitment to make Parramatta River and its catchment swimmable again, the Council reviewed all possible swimming sites in its area and found Lake Parramatta was the most promising site, as the water quality in the Lake had gradually improved over past decades due to a program of works in the catchment undertaken by the PRCG.
In addition to having great water quality, the Lake reserve also has existing walking tracks, toilets, a café, playground, BBQ’s and a car park, all of which added to the attractiveness of the Lake as a mixed-use community facility.
CoP established a project team and undertook the following activities to create a safe, accessible, natural outdoor swimming area:
- Divers checked and removed debris from the swimming area
- Pebbles were added to fill in gaps in the rocks at the entry point to the water
- An improved path down to the Lake was built
- Part of the Lake was cordoned off, as a designated swimming area, using buoys and ropes
- Lifeguards were hired to oversee water safety during the busier summer months
- Appropriate information and compliance signage was designed and installed.
A recent survey conducted by CoP, shows that 93% of visitors report swimming at Lake Parramatta is “good” or “very good” and it is rated as the number one Parramatta attraction by the TripAdvisor website.
The project demonstrates that it is possible to provide a high quality, popular experience for people without the need to expend large amounts of money for infrastructure or maintenance, instead leveraging the beautiful natural environment of the Lake Parramatta reserve.
City of Parramatta.
Royal Life Saving NSW.
Office of Environment and Heritage (Beachwatch section).
Parramatta River Catchment Group.