River sewage threat to Blue Flag status

2014-08-13 00:00

IF Durban harbours any ambitions to get full-blown Blue Flag status, it needs to prevent incidents like the recent sewage contamination of a local river.

Ted Knott, the national coastal project manager for wildlife organisation Wessa, said any pollution in a river system could be problematic for the city if it wanted world-class beaches.

eThekwini currently has three beaches under pilot status, which will only be considered as Blue Flag beaches in mid-2015.

The beaches are uShaka, ­eMdloti and Umgababa.

“We can’t use factors such as having a large informal population alongside a river as an excuse,” said Knott.

“There are cities around the world larger than Durban and more populated that have Blue Flag status. It is reasons like this that we have pilot status to allow municipalities to rectify issues such as this,” he said.

The Blue Flag is a recognised global label and is awarded to beaches and marinas that meet strict criteria for water quality, environmental education, environmental management, and safety and services.

There are 4 000 sites around the world. Six are in KZN and include Richards Bay, Southport and Umzumbe as well as nine beaches in the Western Cape and one in the Northern Cape.

“[The river sewage contamination] can be addressed through the improvement of infrastructure and how we manage our waste.”

Recently the city admitted that at least 30% of rivers running into the ocean in Durban at any given time are hygienically “critical”.

This weekend the Ohlanga River — which ends at Umhlanga Beach — was deemed unsafe with reports of dead fish on the sand banks as a result of a sewage spill upstream. While the problem was rectified, residents were urged to refrain from using the river and were told it could be months until the river system is clean.

The city has acknowledged that the sewage leaks are the result of blockages in the sanitation system.

eThekweni Municipality spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said the issue at the Waterloo pump station is being addressed and monitored until the municipality’s water and sanitation department is satisfied that the river is back to normal. She added that a no swimming sign had been put up.

There are cities around the world larger than Durban and more populated that have Blue Flag status.

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