Too dirty to swim?

2017-10-17 06:01

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Calls for the closure of Fish Hoek beach have been made after a local organisation says it measured high counts of E. coli in the water.

The Fish Hoek Valley Ratepayers and Residents’ Association has released a report that the beach poses a health risk to swimmers, after high counts of E. coli and enterococci bacteria (which are an indication of fecal contamination) were measured at the beach.

This despite the beach having Blue Flag status, an international accreditation awarded to beaches that display excellence by meeting 33 criteria.

These criteria cover four categories, including water quality.

Participation in this international programme is voluntary and the status indicates that the beaches are clean, have adequate ablution facilities and parking, are environmentally sound, are safe and secure to visit and adhere to international safety and tourism standards. The accreditation is awarded for one season at a time.

If conditions deteriorate at a beach the status can be withdrawn.

According to the report, an enterococci count of over 380 per 100ml is considered a “red mode requiring daily sampling, identifying the problem, confirming the source of contamination and taking action mitigation measures”.

Over the limitThe report states that samples taken on 30 August were over the limit, with an enterococci count of between 2050 and 100 000.

The report adds that during the period of measurement, the beach was found to be non-compliant, except for the period of 10 August last year to 11 April this year.

“Our contamination is classified as discontinuous or sporadic and often driven by events such as rainfall. This is most commonly associated with combined sewerage overflow presence or sewer rupture, but also wastewater discharges, sewerage pump station overflow, seepage from septic or conservancy tanks and contaminated stormwater run-off,” the report states.

“This is collaborated by 1644 Fish Hoek complaints logged by the City of Cape Town from 2 July 2016 to 6 April this year with most catalogued in the blocked or overflow sewerage category,” the report states.

JP Smith, Mayco member for safety, security and social services, says: “It is unfortunate that the Blue Flag programme, which is in essence an environmental education programme, has been misinterpreted in this manner.”

He says there were no failed samples this past season.

“Blue Flag status is awarded annually, based partly on what has been achieved previously but also based on the commitment to the coming season. The City’s Blue Flag season begins on 1 December 2017 and ends on 31 January 2018.

“Our results are analysed independently, by the South African Bureau of Standards laboratory. There were no failed samples this past season. This means that any and all water quality results outside of this time period are not relevant to Blue Flag status,” he explains.

Water samples are taken at beaches every fortnight, Smith explains.

He says higher counts are sometimes recorded during or after rainfall.

“Any contamination deposited within the catchment during preceding dry periods gets washed from roads and pavements during rain events into the stormwater system and then out to sea. During heavy rainfall, if there is rainwater flowing into the sewer system, overflows from the sewer network may occur. Overflows can also take place if there are blockages in the sewer system. Some contamination which may reach the beach originates in Fish Hoek town immediately next to the beach. Run-off from informal trading areas, local food and restaurant shops and bin washing and goods loading areas have also been identified as possible sources,” he explains.

Reported sewer blockages or overflows are dealt with by the local water and sanitation depots, Smith adds.

“While virtually every resident, and most visitors to Cape Town are well aware of the often uncomfortable and sometimes catastrophic consequences of a typical Cape winter when blustery, cold and wet conditions are experienced, it is probably true that most do not understand or appreciate the extent of stormwater operations involved in managing this rain and sporadic floods,” says Smith.

“The water cycle is a topic taught in every school, but a deeper understanding of how this cycle operates within the urban environment is often lacking. Water is simply seen as something that comes out of a tap to be used in our homes and then flushed away out of sight or which falls from the sky to conveniently disappear down a drain along the roadside. Few are aware of the interconnected nature of the water supply, wastewater and sewage treatment and stormwater conveyance systems which ensure that we have clean, safe drinking water, functional sewage treatment systems and well-drained urban ­areas.”

Urban stormwater, which is simply rainwater that has flowed through developed areas, is seldom clean since it picks up and transports a range of contaminants, Smith says. “Many people are unaware that their daily behaviour in their homes, businesses and in the streets pollutes the environment and has a direct and measurable negative impact on water quality in rivers, wetlands and along the sea shore. Understanding about the state of Cape Town’s aquatic ecosystems, water quality impairment and the role every inhabitant can play in protecting the City’s unique freshwater and coastal environments needs to be deepened.”

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