Lagoon riddled with E coli

Litter washed out of stormwater drains and into the Diep River made its way onto MIlnerton beach during Cape Town’s winter storms in August.

Water-quality testing – done privately during the 11th Peninsula Paddle – has found off-the-chart E coli readings in Milnerton lagoon.

The single sample taken opposite the Milnerton Canoe Club had E coli over 2419 colony forming units (cfu).

According to Dr Kevin Winter, of the Future Water Institute, anything over 2419 cfu is off the charts.

The water samples were collected by paddlers on World River’s Day, Sunday September 27. The paddlers were equipped with cameras and recording equipment. They created a short documentary on the state of the waterways from Muizenberg to Milnerton, and, along the route, they took water samples to test for bacteria, nutrients and heavy metals and compare these results with water samples from previous years.

Watch the documentary here.

The data collected by the paddlers was processed for Dr Winter by AL Abbotts laboratory.

Dr Winter said they had only paddled a short stretch up the lagoon because the Peninsula Paddle ended at the Milnerton Canoe Club.

The sample showed elevated nutrient levels in the form of ammonia nitrogen, total phosphate and bacteria levels that were above 2419 counts per cfu, he said.

According to the government’s water-quality guidelines for recreational use a count above 500 cfu is “unacceptable” and greatly raises the risk of illnesses, especially gastrointestinal ones.

“The risk is not well understood, but the higher the count, the more likely that water is to carry pathogens that could cause illness if ingested,” said Dr Winter.

Andrea Korff, legal project manager for the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), said they were compiling a report on the water results for the past year.

Outa would use the reports on “various fronts” in its fight against the City’s “blatant disregard for the environment”, she said.

Outa has been working alongside the Milnerton Central Ratepayers’ Association (MCRA) other civic groups in their fight to get the City to clean up the Diep River and Milnerton Lagoon.

“These results are being accumulated for purposes of scientific analyses to find solutions and confirm pollution sources, and civil protest from communities that are not willing to accept the destruction of their environment – ecological and recreational. Although the data accumulated will be augmented, there are already very clear and serious trends that should be noted and acted on immediately in order to stem the destruction,” Ms Korff said.

“Upstream of the Milnerton Lagoon, informal settlements have been blamed, and do contribute, but the impact is insignificant compared to the contaminated water being discharged in the Potsdam and Theo Marais areas.”

The scale of pollution in the Diep River was so extreme that sailing, swimming, fishing and any other recreational use were completely out of the question, she said.

“Outa firmly believes that all effort should be made to highlight and to raise awareness of the state of all South Africa’s waterways and commend the annual Peninsula Paddle in doing so.

“It is important for us as citizens to take the health of our environments very seriously and to spare no resource in holding those accountable for the pollution. We as citizens are mother nature’s last line of defence in combating pollution.”

Dr Winter said their single sample at Milnerton was not enough to draw too many conclusions other than to raise concern and show there was an urgent need to monitor more systematically to identify sources of pollution.

“For example, on the short paddle up the lagoon to the finishing point, we got a strong odour of sewage in a section alongside the houses on Woodbridge Island. It seemed very localised and should be investigated further,” he said.

Xanthea Limberg, the mayoral committee member for waste and water, said many cities around the world faced the challenge of improving water quality in urban rivers.

“The City is working to address pollution of the Milnerton Lagoon. The broader Diep River catchment is one of the largest in the City, at 1551km2, and pollution on the street, or any sewer blockage/overflow that occurs in this area, will be washed down to the Diep River eventually. City efforts to manage the problem are detailed in monthly sub-council meetings.”

Wastewater-treatment capacity in the area was being increased at a cost of over R1 75 billion to cater for future growth in the area, she said.

“However, much of this pollution is out of the City’s control, and while we will try and manage it as best as possible with available resources, we need residents to comply with laws around what goes into sewers and stormwater pipes if we are going to sustainably bring pollution levels down.”

The Peninsula Paddle was the sort of activism that served a valuable purpose, she said.

“Improving the health of rivers requires society to come together and collectively ensure that all communities in Cape Town understand that rivers and sewers and storm drains are not general dumping grounds.”