Advisory Council on the Environment

Beach Water Quality in Hong Kong, 1986-2000

(ACE Paper 6/2001)
For information


The purpose of this paper is to brief Members on the water quality of gazetted beaches in Hong Kong in 2000 and the improvement observed over the past 15 years.


2. The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has implemented a comprehensive monitoring programme since the establishment of the EPD in 1986 to assess the water quality of beaches in Hong Kong. Under this programme, the water quality of all 41 gazetted beaches in the territory is monitored. To mark the 15th anniversary of the programme, a report highlighting our achievements in improving the beach water quality and the related improvement measures has been prepared and is attached with this paper.


3. Beach water quality is annually assessed through a ranking system which links the water quality status of a beach with swimming-associated health risks. According to the system, beaches are ranked as "Good", "Fair", "Poor" or "Very Poor". Only those in the ranks of "Good" and "Fair" meet the relevant water quality objective.

4. In 2000, the water quality of 35 out of 41 gazetted beaches (85%) had complied with the water quality objective (WQO). This compliance rate has been maintained since 1999 (Figure 1). Except six of the Tsuen Wan beaches, all other gazetted beaches had either "Good" or "Fair" water quality in 2000 and no beach had 'Very Poor' water quality (Figure 2). Compared with 15 years ago (Figure 3), improvement in beach water quality has been observed at a number of beaches, such as Repulse Bay, Middle Bay, Silvermine Bay, which were at one time either closed or on the verge of closure due to their "Poor" or "Very Poor" water quality.


5. Since the establishment of EPD in 1986, a series of measures had been implemented to bring about improvement of water quality at the Hong Kong beaches.

Water Quality Objective

6. In accordance with the recommendations and guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO), local epidemiological studies had been carried out in the late 1980s and the health risk related WQO for bathing water was established in 1992. This WQO, which sets out the target for beach water quality management, is applicable to beaches in all water control zones.

Legislative Enforcement Efforts

7. Through implementation of the Water Pollution Control Ordinance and the Waste Disposal (Livestock Waste) Regulation in the late 1980s, EPD had taken enforcement actions against polluted discharges in beach hinterlands. EPD also launched regular surveillance and environmental awareness programmes to ensure that private sewage treatment facilities in beach hinterlands were properly operated and maintained.

Sewage Pollution Abatement Measures

8. Various sewage pollution abatement measures had been implemented by EPD and Drainage Services Department (DSD) in the hinterland of most beaches in the past 15 years to safeguard their water quality. These measures included the provision of proper sewerage and interceptors, diversion of polluted storm drains, extension of submarine outfalls, etc. The implementation of these measures had brought about significant improvement of beach water quality.

Monitoring Programme

9. The beach monitoring programme has been reviewed and revised several times since its implementation in 1986 to better safeguard public health. The current programme has been enhanced to provide more comprehensive and timely information on beach water quality to the public. The enhancement includes more frequent sampling, sampling on a random basis and during weekends, and the adoption of a more rapid and accurate E. coli analytical method.

Beach Rating Systems

10. Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world that has a beach rating system. The introduction of the annual ranking and the beach grading systems in 1987 helped the public understand beach water quality information. Both systems have been revised several times in order to provide more comprehensive information to the public. The current beach grading system was last revised in 1999. It is based on risks to health and gives up to date information on any deterioration of water quality to the public.

Beach Water Quality Information

11. The beach grading was originally provided to the public in the form of a bi-weekly press release when it was introduced in 1987. Through the enhanced monitoring programme, the most updated information on beach water quality is now available from weekly press releases, notice boards at the beach offices, the beach water quality hotline (2511-6666) and the Internet (http://www.info.gov.hk/epd). Bathers could obtain timely information on beach water quality to decide on whether they should swim at the beaches.


12. At present , only six of the Tsuen Wan beaches which do not have sewerage in their hinterland have "Poor" water quality and could not meet the WQO for bathing water. Among these six beaches, three were still closed to the public in 2000.

13. The major pollution source of these beaches are the sewage arising from village and squatter houses in the unsewered hinterland and the background contribution from the polluted marine waters of the Victoria Harbour. To rectify the local problem, the government will provide sewerage along the coastal strip between Tsing Lung Tau in the west and Ting Kau in the east. A new sewage treatment plant will be built on a newly reclaimed site in Sham Tseng to treat the sewage collected from these unsewered areas. Funding for this project was approved last year. It is scheduled for completion in 2005. The local pollution will be substantially removed once the local sources are connected to the new trunk sewer. The reduction in impact from the waters of Victoria Harbour will depend on the progress with implementing the sewage treatment scheme for that area.

14. Through the concerted efforts of legislative enforcement by the EPD, provision of sewerage in the beach hinterland by the DSD and completion of the first stage of the sewage treatment system for the main urban areas, the water quality of the Tsuen Wan beaches will gradually improve.


15. We expect that all existing beaches with Good/Fair ratings will maintain this grading. We also expect that the Tsuen Wan beaches will begin to see significantly improved water quality around 2006, but it is not yet possible to determine whether they will meet the Good/Fair level until all the local pollution sources are intercepted and the background contribution from the Victoria Harbour is reduced through the full implementation of sewerage schemes in that area.

Environmental Protection Department
February 2001





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