Tests show ‘shocking’ E Coli levels

The City of Cape Town says it is looking into short-term interventions to help fight the battle with the poor water quality at the Lagoon in Milnerton.

For years, there’s been a back and forth between the City and residents regarding high levels of E Coli at various water bodies across the Milnerton area. Some residents banded together over the years to create organisations like RethinkTheStink – to raise awareness about the water quality.

An overhead shot of Milnerton Lagoon.

Caroline Marx is Milnerton Central Residents’ Association’s environmental head and one of the directors at RethinkTheStink. She said that they had recently done independent tests of the water because it was hard to hold the City accountable.

“We have received the results which were worse than we feared and RethinkTheStink submitted a complaint on Monday to the City, the national Department of Water and Sanitation and other relevant departments. The E Coli results at the Wooden Bridge in Milnerton were shocking, 580 000 cfu/100ml, very far over safe recreational levels of 500 cfu/100ml,” she said.

Peter Walsh, another one of the directors at RethinkTheStink went deeper into the matter saying that testing had identified the source of the pollution as being Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works.

“The treated effluent measuring 1.56 million cfu/100 ml (Limit is 1000 cfu/100 ml) being discharged from the official outlet into the Diep River. E Coli levels at Milnerton Canoe Club measuring a shocking 580 000 cfu/100ml (the safe limit for swimming is 500 cfu/100 ml, for canoeing is 1000 cfu/100 ml).

“The City’s claims that a transformer failure affected the quality of the effluent from the official discharge point on 25/01/2023 are not reassuring when the previous independent water testing on 04/11/2022 showed the effluent discharge contained 750 000 cfu/100ml,” he said.

RethinkTheStink revealed their latest findings regarding the water quality issues in Milnerton.

The City did not respond to all the figures brought forward by RethinkTheStink. However, acting Mayoral committee member for water and sanitation, Councillor Siseko Mbandezi, said that the City were taking steps to improve the Milnerton Lagoon and the Diep River environment by appointing environmental consultants to investigate and assess possible short-term interventions.

“The consultants will assess various options, including short-term water quality and odour mitigation, dredging the lagoon and river channel, pumping seawater into the lagoon, and constructing reed beds or low-flow vegetated channels. The City will be monitoring the consulting work and sharing information with stakeholders and is committed to mitigating the multiple sources of urban pollution in the waterways,” said Mr Mbandezi.

Brett Herron of the GOOD Party said they had been monitoring the City’s response to the water quality issues at the Lagoon, Diep River and Potsdam for a while.

He said that the contamination of wetlands, water courses and lagoons in Cape Town were a result of under-investment in sanitation services in overcrowded areas and informal settlements.

“The failure to govern well for all of our residents is now being felt in areas where residents assume that the level of service they expect is only experienced by other communities. In the case of the Milnerton area this is most likely as a result of under-investment in the water and sanitation services to the Dunoon and Joe Slovo areas, where the bulk services are unable to support the expansion of these communities, he said.

The water quality at the Table Bay Nature Reserve is alarming, residents say.

Mr Herron also said that this was a result of inadequate sanitation services to informal settlements like Siyahlala on the side of the railway line in Dunoon.

Residents of Siyahlala were some of the residents who were identified for a relocation move to the Racing Park housing project (“Dunoon housing on track for 2024,” Tabletalk, June 29, 2022). In January 2023, Human Settlements MEC, Tertius Simmers, said that the housing plan was still on track after a community meeting was held last November (Dunoon fire victims threaten to occupy land,” Tabletalk, January 11).

Mr Herron said that the delay to relocate the residents to Racing Way has exacerbated the contamination of the waterways and lagoons because the living conditions along the railway line are completely unsuitable for human habitation.

“The cause of the contamination of the Milnerton waterways, that were an important and popular recreational lagoon, is due to a failure to upgrade services in neighbouring communities and the blame lies squarely with the disparate allocation of resources by our City government,” he said.

The City directed Tabletalk to its website for a detailed short-term plan to combat the sewage issues at Milnerton Lagoon. These plans include things like odour control, upgrades to the Potsdam WWTW, widening the mouth of the Lagoon, building community ablutions in informal areas among others. Residents can visit https://www.capetown.gov.za/Media-and-news/City%20unpacks%20short-term%20interventions%20to%20help%20tackle%20pollution%20at%20Milnerton%20Lagoon to find out more about the City’s plans.