City closes Rietvlei after pollution spike

High levels of E coli have been found in Rietvlei, according to the City.

The Table Bay Nature Reserve’s Rietvlei will be closed to the public for water sports after high levels of E coli were detected in the water last week.

The City of Cape Town has warned people to stay at least 150 meters away from the vlei waters, according to an email it sent to biodiversity area manager for Table Bay Nature Reserve Charline Mc Kie, who, in turn, sent Tabletalk a copy when we approached her for comment.

Caroline Marx, head of the environmental portfolio of Milnerton Central Ratepayers’ Association, believes a sewage spill “of hundreds of thousands of litres” must have been behind such widespread contamination.

E coli is a bacteria found in the guts of humans and animals and exposure to it can cause illness, including diarrhoea, to which seniors, children and those with weakened immune system are most susceptible.

Ms Marx said she had not yet heard of anyone falling ill, but she was disappointed that the vlei was so badly polluted.

“Sewage contamination causes an increase in nutrients in the water, which can cause algal blooms, which depletes oxygen levels and can cause mass fish die-offs. It also encourages the growth of toxic blue-green algae. These algal blooms can occur months after the spill, so the real damage may only be seen much later,” she said.

The City claims to be unaware of the source of the problem, but Ms Marx said it was “presumably” City infrastructure.

The municipal sewerage system was straining under growing densification and the community was seeing more sewage spills and blockages because of that, she said.

Table View Ratepayers’ Association chairwoman Mandy da Matta said people living near the reserve had been complaining about burning eyes and eye infections as well as an unpleasant smell in the area.

“Residents are noting their inability to breathe when the smell becomes overwhelming,” she said.

The Potsdam Waste Water Treatment Works needed an urgent upgrade, and the plant should stop discharging effluent into the vlei, she said.

“If the City council wants to work efficiently, then the City manager and City councillors need to ensure the preservation of our environment. There needs to be accountability of our officials and total transparency needs to be evident or we may just need to lay criminal charges against our City manager, Mr (Lungelo) Mbandazayo, like was done by the residents and AfriForum in Randfontein, looked after by the Rand West City Local Municipality,” she said.

She encouraged residents to log a call to the Green Scorpions on 0800 205 005 and get a reference number for this “latest environmental catastrophe”.

Ms Mc Kie, confirmed the vlei was closed for water sports. Further questions about the health risks related to E.coli exposure she referred to the City.

Friends of Rietvlei acting chairman Dave Honour said he had visited the area at the weekend and had seen a notice on a pole, warning people to stay clear of the water as it was contaminated.

“The area is still open to the public who wish to walk and watch the birdlife,” he said.

The reserve lost income when access was stopped, he said.

According to a City statement on Sunday June 27, Rietvlei is closed for recreational use until testing confirms water quality has returned to safe levels.

Water quality had “deteriorated below levels deemed safe for intermediate recreational contact,” the statement said.

The cause of the pollution was unclear, the statement said.

We sent questions to the City on Friday June 25. We requested the E.coli readings and asked when the reserve was likely to reopen. However, on Tuesday, the City had still not answered those questions and it said it would be unable to do so by our deadline.

The public may still enter the Table Bay Nature Reserve but they have been warned to stay at least 150 meters from Rietvlei, which has been contaminated high levels of E coli.