Dogs ill after Zandvlei water exposure

Last year the Zandvlei Nature Reserve was also closed due to a sewage spill which resulted in a high E. coli count.

Two dogs had a narrow escape on Sunday after being exposed to contaminated water at the Zandvlei Nature Reserve.

A sewage spill in the Marina da Gama and Sand River canal sections last week resulted in high levels of faecal coliforms (E. coli), and the reserve was temporarily closed for recreational water activities.

While the City of Cape Town is adamant there are no other toxins in the water except E. coli, Marina Da Gama resident, Keith Robbertze, disagrees.

Mr Robbertze took his five dogs, including two Labradors, Onyx and Milo. for a walk in the vlei on the side near Military Road on Sunday afternoon.

He said the Labradors love water, and both made a “quick loop” through the water before he called them to make their way home, as it had started to rain.

He first noticed Milo, a 2-year-old lab rescue, fall down, and thought he had tripped over something, but then realised Onyx was doing the same.

“They were off balance and falling all over the place,” he said.

During the 15-minute walk home, Milo became completely off balance, and Mr Robbertze had to carry him home.

Mr Robbertze immediately called a friend, who works for an animal welfare organisation, for advice. He suggested charcoal and milk, and Mr Robbertze mixed charcoal with rice and gave them both milk.

“We tried to get them to vomit, but it didn’t work, although it saved their lives,” he said.

However, Onyx, an 11-month-old guide dog in training, was not doing well, and Mr Robbertze rushed him to the vet in Kenilworth.

The vet said the symptoms indicated that whatever the dogs were exposed to was more than sewage.

Onyx was given medication and put on a drip.

He was later discharged, and Mr Robbertze monitored him throughout the night. Both dogs were washed to remove any substance they could have picked up in the water.

The quick thinking of his friend saved both dogs, and they were back to normal again on Monday, he said.

Mr Robbertze has lived in Marina Da Gama for the past 18 years, and said most of the wildlife such as fish eagles, kingfishers, owls, ducks and fish have been killed over the years.

He said during his walk dead fish could be seen in the water, and expressed concern at the frequency of sewage spills. He said the City must implement ways to prevent these spills in the future.

Another Marina Da Gama resident, Mike Ryder, also questioned why these spills occur so often, and said the City’s emergency procedures for dealing with this spill appears to have been inadequate or ineffective.

He said it was about the sixth spillage of sewage into the vlei in the last 12 months or so, and given that the last spill resulted in the complete closure of the vlei, it would not be unreasonable to ask the City what went wrong, and how this can be prevented from happening again.

While there will always be leaks with ageing infrastructure, there is no reason why those leaks, with appropriate and effective emergency protocols such as sand bags, sluice gates or sand barriers, cannot be contained, and the sewage prevented from entering the vlei, he said.

“Many volunteers work hard to keep Zandvlei clean, and for this to have happened is an absolute disgrace, and those responsible should be held accountable,” he said.

Mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt, said the City was aware of the incident with the dogs.

She said the City had been monitoring the banks and the mouth of the vlei, and can confirm that other than an isolated incident of a limited number of dead fish in the Sand River canal on Friday May 17, no other animals in or around the vlei have died.

She said there were no visible signs of an algal bloom, in particular blue-green algae which could produce toxins that could negatively impact on human and animal health.

She said the City will engage with Mr Robbertze for more information, and this will determine whether the City will do additional water test-

Ms Nieuwoudt said although the City does allow dog walking in various sections of Zandvlei, the dogs had been reported swimming in an on-leash area, apart from the fact that the City distributed closure notices and erected signage around the vlei, including this section, to communicate the temporarily closing off of public access to recreational water activities in the reserve.

In May last year, the reserve was also closed due to high E. coli count after a sewage spill.

The City had water quality testing done at various points within the Zandvlei water body, and concluded that the vlei should be closed to the public as a precautionary measure (“High E. coli count shuts Zandvlei water area,” Echo May 3, 2018).

Mayoral committee member for water and waste, Xanthea Limberg, said the spill last week was caused as a result of blockages due to the misuse of the sewer system by residents.

She said the sewer reticulation system is only geared to accept toilet waste such as urine, faeces, and toilet paper. However, she said items such as rags, nappies, wet wipes, condoms, general litter, building materials, and the build-up of cooking fat or oil is often the reason for blockages.