Closure cripples aquatic club

The City of Cape Town closed the waters at Rietvlei for three months, bringing business to a halt at the Milnerton Aquatic Club.

The City of Cape Town may have reopened the Rietvlei water to the public but the Milnerton Aquatic Club (MAC) has lost thousands in the backlash of its closure.

The Rietvlei water area within Table Bay Nature Reserve was closed on Friday March 17 due to an alleged outbreak of a blue-green algal bloom.

Two weeks ago the City gave the all-clear and reopened the waters but warned “that the situation could change at any time”.

Situated on the banks of the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, MAC is a popular destination for water enthusiasts. The club was hit hard as the water was closed one day before its biggest event.

Andre Wollheim, a club member, said the losses amounted to around R25000. He also believes the closure of the waters contributed to the club’s recent decline in membership, which has further crippled the club financially.

Although Mr Wollheim agreed that the safety of the club’s members was top priority, he believes there was no justification for closing the water in the first place.

“The day before the waters were closed a ranger noticed scum on the shoreline and even though the shoreline is not a testing point they decided to take a sample of the scum line as well as samples from our actual sampling points which are the jetty and the rocky point,” said Mr Wollheim.

The two testing points came back safe but the scum line’s sample tested positive for blue-green algae.

Mr Wollheim explained that the City uses the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) safety guidelines in managing recreational waters and that according to its standards, microcystin (a class of toxin) levels amounting to 10 or below 10 per one litre of water was considered safe. Readings between 10 and 20 required warning signs to be put up but water is still allowed to be open. Readings over 20 meant waters had to be closed.

Mr Wollheim said they had not seen the test results when the waters were closed and assumed that the algal bloom was severe. When the club eventually got hold of the results they saw that not only were the two testing points safe but that third test conducted at the scum line was below 20.

“These tests results prove that the City had no legal reason for closing the water,” said Mr Wollheim.

Another MAC member, Shane Krige, an attorney, requested the relevant documents from the City through the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

Mr Krige said the documents provided by the City “do not justify closure of the vlei to recreation” and that it appeared that the City had “lost many of the laboratory reports that it apparently relied upon”.

“Not a single one of the actual laboratory reports that were disclosed reveals a microcystin concentration above the threshold at which the WHO Guidelines even apply, let alone the level at which recreation should be prohibited. Some of the key laboratory reports were missing but even the reports which I assume no longer exist do not justify closure of the vlei to recreation,” said Mr Krige.

Suzette Little, mayoral committee member for area north, said the City’s decision to close the Rietvlei water was based on the regular water testing and monitoring of the Rietvlei water quality.

“The toxins reports were not read in isolation, but in conjunction with the cell counts, which remained well over the WHO guidelines. The high cell counts present an unpredictable environment, where toxins levels could double within hours, anytime of the day. This was the basis of the call to close Rietvlei,” said Ms Little.

Mr Wollheim also pointed out that it usually took about a week for the test results to return from samples taken at the club’s water. He found it peculiar that the results were available within 24 hours when the water’s were closed. When Tabletalk queried this with the City, Ms Little responded:

“When something that may potentially pose a risk to residents emerges, the City takes all measures necessary to finalise water tests results in order to make management decisions that seek to protect residents as per its constitutional mandate.”

Tabletalk also enquired about the missing lab reports to which Ms Little responded that they have fully complied with the PAIA regulations and provided all required details through the City’s Access to Information Unit.

Ms Little said Rietvlei was reopened due to the latest results indicating a decreasing trend in cell count levels.

“It is opened with a tight monitoring programme that seeks to warn and keep users out of the water should the water quality deteriorate,” she said.