Chronic water pollution at Lagoon Beach – report

Polluted water along the West Coast Road feeding into Milnerton Lagoon. Picture: Karen Watkins.

Lagoon Beach in Milnerton, Central False Bay, Three Anchor Bay in Sea Point and Macassar to Gordon’s Bay have chronic water pollution problems, according to the City’s latest report on coastal water quality.

Lagoon Beach was rated “poor” for the sixth year in a row in the Know Your Coast report with a reading of 2420 E coli cfu/100ml at Thursday September 7.

At Table View, the water quality has gone from “excellent” in 2020/21 to “sufficient” in 2023.

At Milnerton Lighthouse, the water quality has been “poor” for the past two years while it was “sufficient” during 2021/20.

Bloubergstrand’s Big Bay has been “sufficient” in 2023 and 2021, down from “excellent” in 2022.

At Small Bay it was “poor” in 2023 and 2021, “sufficient” in 2021, and down from “excellent” in 2020.

Melkbosstrand, one of Cape Town’s Blue Flag beaches, was ranked “good”, down from “excellent” last year.

According to mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment Eddie Andrews, this is the third Know Your Coast report issued by the City.

The report included the sampling results of the previous six years, from 2018 to 2023, which determined the water quality at recreational beaches, tidal pools, and coastal monitoring points. The key findings come from over 10 000 sample bacterial test sites, twice a month in the surf zone and in tidal swimming pools, along a stretch of 307km coastline from Silwerboomstrand on the Atlantic to Kogel Bay on the east side of False Bay.

The samples are analysed by the City’s scientific services unit and categorised as “excellent”, “good”, “sufficient”, or “poor”, based on a 365-day rolling period.

For most healthy people, water quality that meets acceptable standards, “sufficient” or above, will pose little risk to their health, said the report.

Coastal water quality is assessed by comparing the number of E coli and enterococci bacteria in the water samples to limits set out in the South African Water Quality Guidelines for Coastal Marine Waters. The bacteria serve as indicators of faecal pollution and the potential presence of pathogenic micro-organisms.

The ratings are based on the estimated risk of illness per exposure to swimming for 10 minutes with three head immersions. Less than 2.9% is “excellent”, less than 5% is “good”, less than 8.5% is “sufficient” and more than 8.5% is “poor”.

Apart from the annual Know Your Coast report, the City runs a statistical analysis for each site twice a month.

The latest report covers coastal water quality to September 21, 2023.

Caroline Marx, of anti-pollution activist group ReThinkTheStink, said even treated effluent from a sewage plant should have less than 1000 E coli cfu/100ml, but, as stated in the report, Simon’s Town Long Beach had 1414 E coli cfu/100ml and the Kom, in Noordhoek had 2420 E coli cfu/100ml and the actual results could be far higher.

Similarly high levels are found in the report at many beaches including Hout Bay (2420), Silverstroom (7260), Strand Pavilion jetty (1120) and Gordon’s Bay (1733), and Ms Marx said they posed possible health risk to users. “How sad in a city famous for its beautiful coastline,” she said.

Dr Cleeve Robertson, CEO of the National Sea Rescue Institute, said the City’s data lacked credibility and integrity. Relying solely on E coli measurements gave a limited picture of water quality as sewage could harbour numerous pathogens, he added.

He pointed to discrepancies between the City’s data and the scientific findings of experts such as Professor Leslie Petrik, who leads the Environmental and NanoScience Research Group at UWC, and Dr Jo Barnes, whose primary research focuses on water-related diseases.

Dr Robertson suggested the City was manipulating data to serve its own agenda, which didn’t align with the well-being of its citizens.

Mr Andrews said the City needed partnerships with residents. “And for residents to refrain from littering, illegal dumping in our sewers and stormwater mains, and to not dispose of grey water or any other substances in the stormwater mains. Everything that is dumped in our rivers, canals, stormwater mains and streams, from household bin washing, pet waste, household cleaning agents, fats, oils and grease, eventually finds its way into the sea,” he said.

View the report:

Milnerton Lagoon has chronic pollution problems, according to a City coastal water quality report. Picture: Karen Watkins.
Bloubergstrand’s Big Bay has been ranked “sufficient” in 2023, down from excellent in 2022. Picture: Karen Watkins.