POOLS in south-west towns won't open until mid-December, despite coronavirus restrictions now allowing up to 300 swimmers outdoors.
The Moyne and Corangamite Shires have delayed the summer openings of outdoor pools in towns such as Mortlake, Macarthur, Hawkesdale, Camperdown, Terang and Cobden.
The move has frustrated keen swimmers, some who travel up to an hour to practise at Warrnambool or swim in district lakes instead.
Moyne council community and corporate services director Kevin Leddin said "the changing situation with COVID restrictions over the past few months" led to the delay so "all safety measures and guidelines could be adhered to" at the pools.
Both councils' pools are now due to open on December 19, nearly four weeks later than usual for some.
Corangamite Shire's sports and recreation co-ordinator Jane Hinds said the council worked with contractor YMCA to develop COVID-safe plans and pool preparations took a minimum of eight weeks.
"At the time level three restrictions were implemented in regional Victoria, swimming pool facilities were closed and it was unknown at the time if these restrictions would be in place for longer than six weeks," she said.
"The decision to defer the commencement of the pool season was not made lightly."
Mortlake's 50-metre outdoor pool was due to open Monday this week and close on March 15.
It's followed a similar summer window for the past two decades, although some residents recall the pool opening for nearly six months in the early 1990s.
Regular swimmers Sue Morrison and Rod Watkins, who live on farms outside the town, believe the pool season has been too short and opening hours too limited.
"It should be open for the community, especially during this time of COVID where we need a focus on health and wellbeing," Ms Morrison said.
"It's a really frustrating situation."
Ms Morrison and her family drove with neighbours at 5.30am to swim in Warrnambool in past weeks.
Rod Watkins, who swam the English Channel in 2018, said the Mortlake pool was the best in the region outside Warrnambool and should be open for longer.
"We are planning to meet with the council to discuss this issue," he said. "It seems a shame to have such a wonderful facility underutilised."
The Bookaar resident swims at Lake Bullen Merri instead.
Moyne Shire councillor Ian Smith said he would ask council officers if the pool could be used outside the current time window.
Cr Smith said one reason for the limited opening times was the costs involved, particularly for lifeguard staff.
"But these are very experienced swimmers wanting to use the pool for training. I am wondering where we can go with people like this," he said.
"I'd have to find out what the actual cost is. It could be prohibitive, but we should be looking at it to see what we can do."
"I want to try and get these problems worked out so we aren't going through this next year."
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