Beach water worry

A sign on the culvert at Fish Hoek Beach warning the public that stormwater can be polluted.

With less than eight weeks to go before thousands of holiday goers descend on Cape Town beaches for the festive season, the Fish Hoek Valley Ratepayers and Residents’ Association (FHVRRA) feel it is their duty to call for further investigation into their belief that the Fish Hoek beach should be closed due to high E. coli counts.

This, despite the beach having Blue Flag status, an international annual award given to beaches that display excellence through meeting 33 criteria covering four categories: environmental education and information, water quality, environmental management, and safety and services such as ablution facilities and parking.

According to a report, dated September 27, released by the FHVRRA, all water samples for E.coli, a bacteria normally found in a person’s gastrointestinal tract such as the gut or bowel, taken at Fish Hoek beach, were non-compliant on August 30, June 8 and April 26, which is three of the last 20 samplings (15 %).

The report indicates that contamination is often caused by events such as rainfall and is most commonly associated with combined sewer overflow presence or sewer rupture, but also wastewater discharges, sewage pump station overflow, seepage from septic or conservancy tanks and contaminated storm-water runoff. It indicates that this is collaborated by
1 644 Fish Hoek complaints logged by the City of Cape Town from July 2 2016 to April 6, 2017 with most complaints catalogued in the blocked or overflow sewerage category.

The report requests that the City further investigates the matter. It also states that daily sampling should be taken as well as identifying the problem by confirming the source of contamination and taking appropriate action as well as informing the public through media and signage on the beach.

A culvert on the Fish Hoek beach does have signs warning the public of potentially polluted stormwater but these signs are generally ignored.

During the Echo’s visit to the beach on Sunday October 29, a small child was playing in the water flowing from the culvert into the ocean.

Specifications from the department of environmental affairs (DEA) states that the minimum requirement for E.coli is a count of below or equal to 500 per 100 millilitres of water while unacceptable counts are above 500 per 100 millilitres of water.

According to a coastal monitoring report for False Bay conducted by the department of water and sanitation dated August 30, 2017, the E.coli results for Fish Hoek beach was 4 500 per 100 millilitres and indicates that it does not meet the DEA’s guidelines.

But mayoral committee member for safety, security; and social services, JP Smith disagrees with the FHVRRA.

Mr Smith said the City’s results are analysed independently, by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) laboratory and there were no failed samples this past season. He explained that coastal water quality is tested at beaches once every fortnight and said there must be no more than 30 days between sampling during the Blue Flag season.

Blue Flag status is awarded annually and the City’s Blue Flag season begins on December 1 and ends on January 31 2018.

He said the Blue Flag programme awarded by WESSA does not accept applications from beaches, irrespective of the length of the Blue Flag season, where fewer than five samples have been taken, meaning a minimum of five samples must be taken evenly spread out during the season. When sample results raise concern of a possible increase in levels of pollution, it is recommended to temporarily increase the sampling frequency in order to track any possible pollution incident. In the event of short-term pollution, one additional sample is to be taken to confirm that the incident has ended.

Mr Smith said participation in the Blue Flag programmeis voluntary and the status indicates that the beaches are clean, have adequate ablution facilities and parking, are environmentally sound, are safe and secure to visit, and adhere to international safety and tourism standards.

The accreditation is awarded for one season at a time and if conditions deteriorate at the beach, it can be withdrawn.

Fish Hoek was awarded Blue Flag status for the first time in 2016. Mr Smith said any contamination deposited within the catchment during preceding dry periods gets washed from roads and pavements during rain events into the stormwater system and then out to sea.

During heavy rainfall, if there is rainwater ingress into the sewer system, overflows from the sewer network may occur. Overflows can also take place if there are blockages in the sewer system. He said some contamination which may reach the beach originates in Fish Hoek town immediately adjacent to the beach and run off from informal trading areas, local food and restaurant shops and bin washing and goods loading areas have also been identified as possible sources.

“From a health perspective, the City is duty-bound to inform the public of any potential health risks. Therefore, should there be any contamination of a water body used for recreation purposes, the City will inform the public of the risks,” he said.

Professor Mark Nicol from the University of Cape Town’s Medical microbiology division said the presence of E.coli in water is an indicator of contamination of water by faecal matter. Most strains of E. coli are non-pathogenic (do not cause disease), however, some strains can cause illness such as diarrhoea, which can sometimes be severe, particularly in young children who dehydrate easily. He added that uncommon strains of E. coli can cause an illness called haemolytic uraemic syndrome, which can lead to kidney failure.

In addition, since E.coli counts are a marker of faecal contamination of water, they may signal contamination with other bacteria and viruses found in faeces, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella, which can also cause diarrhoea.

Sewer overflows, spills and other pollution incidents can be reported to the City’s call centre on 0860 103 089, via SMS to 31373 or email to