Half of WC’s river systems contaminated by sewage

2009-09-02 10:34

THE Soet River, which originates in the Hottentots Mountains and

flows down through the Lwandile and Nozamo informal settlements before reaching

the sea at the Strand, is so polluted that not one water sample taken by the

City of Cape Town over a 12 months period adheres to minimum water quality


This is contained in the city’s Inland and Coastal Water Quality

Report recently circulated among sub-councils, which notes that of the 27

different river and water body systems, only one river, Schusters, had 100%

compliance with the intermediate contact recreational guideline.

“The Soet River in the Strand area had zero percent compliance –

this means that sample results during the 12 months period were all greater than

1?000 counts (of faecal coliform including E. coli)/100ml,” the report


The reasons given for this are that the Soet River has a small

catchment, which is “undergoing rapid development and there are reports of

periodic blockages/failures of the sewer reticulation system” which results in

overflows into the river resulting in unacceptably high bacterial levels.

The Big and Little Lotus Canals and the Diep River and Canals also

faired very poorly, with eight and 24% compliance respectively.

They both flow into recognised recreational areas, with the Diep

River flowing into Rietvlei and the Milnerton Lagoon, which had a compliance

rate of 21%, while the Big and Little Lotus Canals flowed into Zeekoevlei, which

had a compliance level of 70%.

The report also shows a long term decline in inland water quality

since 2000, when 80.5% of the systems complied with quality tests, whereas the

latest compliance figure was only 55%, which is about where it has been sitting

since 2005, except for an improvement in 2007, when there was a 62%


Regarding coastal water quality, 17 beaches in False Bay failed to

comply with the stringent Full Contact Recreational Standard contained in the SA

Water Quality Guidelines for coastal marine waters.

Beaches to avoid include Kalk Bay Harbour Beach, Muizenberg Station

and Pavilion, Mowabisi Beach, Macassar Beach, and virtually all beaches in

Strand and Gordon’s Bay, including the popular Bikini Beach.

On the Atlantic coastline, four beaches failed to comply with the

standard, namely: Three Anchor Bay, Rocklands Beach, Sunset Beach pool and

Saunders Rocks Beach.

While long term measurements on the Atlantic side show the most

recent results are the same as those in 1992, there has been a decline on the

False Bay side.

Water quality measurements for False Bay coastline in 1992 show an

86% compliance, while the most recent report indicates a 58% compliance.

However, there has been a slight improvement from a low of 50%

compliance in the July 2007-June 2008 reporting period.

For coastal water quality, the report did not provide the

compliance statistics of beaches awarded Blue Flag status as their monitoring

was done through a separate programme undertaken by an external


Director of Roads and Stormwater in the city, Henry du Plessis,

said the city was upgrading infrastructure such as waste water treatments plants

in order to improve inland and coastal water quality.

Du Plessis said upgrading infrastructure was expensive and limited

to what could be achieved within the available budget. It was thus a medium to

long-term process and not “a quick fix issue”.

Arthur Chapman, a senior hydrologist at sustainability company

OneWorld Sustainable Investments, said poor water quality substantially reduces

aquatic biodiversity, which had a negative impact on the environment. It also

impacted on human health and security.

Chapman said poor water quality was usually as a result of

contamination from untreated sewage, and “people drinking such water will

experience gastrointestinal illness”.

He added that reducing sewer blockages and the resultant discharge

into river courses was the “prime response” needed to improve water quality. “A

lot of expensive work needs to be done to upgrade the sewer systems and waste

water treatment plants in the Cape Town region to cope with increasing


West Cape News

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