Questions over City’s water testing

Zandvlei has been re-opened to the public.

The City reopened Zandvlei and Zeekoevlei to the public last week after both had been closed for months because municipal water tests had found they had high E coli counts.

Zandvlei was reopened on Wednesday February 23 and Zeekoevlei on Friday February 25, just weeks after the accuracy of the City’s water-quality testing was called into question over its closure of Rietvlei in Table View.

The City reopened Rietvlei for recreational use two weeks ago after closing it for six weeks, from December 29 last year, citing high E coli levels.

It was the latest in a series of lengthy closures, and the Milnerton Aquatic Club (MAC), which has a clubhouse in the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, felt the City had erred in closing the vlei.

“After the closure on December 29, we had our own tests done on December 31. Our results came back showing a huge difference from the City’s results. We found almost no E coli and concluded that the water was safe for recreational use,” said the club’s conservation officer Katja Haslinger.

A joint water sampling operation, involving the City, the Department of Water and Sanitation, the South African Bureau of Standards, and MAC, followed on February 3.

The samples were taken in the same places and times by all parties, and the City’s results differed from the others.

In a statement on Friday February 11, the City admitted there were deviations in its results compared to those obtained by the other three laboratories, which found E coli levels to be within acceptable levels.

Shortly afterwards, Rietvlei was reopened.

The reopening of Zandvlei and Zeekoevlei followed, but questions are now being asked about the accuracy of samples taken from Zandvlei and Zeekoevlei in the past.

The City has closed all three water bodies intermittently over the years due to high E coli counts.

In September last year, City water tests found Zandvlei was seeing pollution spikes hundreds of times higher than levels considered as an acceptable risk to public health.

Zandvlei had been closed to the public since May 25 last year because it was “badly polluted.” It partially reopened in October, but it was still too risky to swim due to high E coli counts, and then it closed again a month later due to a sewage spill.

Former Marina Da Gama waterways caretaker Mike Ryder said it was difficult to comprehend how the vlei could be “confidently reopened” if there were remaining issues with the test results.

He said the City had been notoriously reluctant over the years to share real-time data with the various groups and individuals that had been observing and commenting on the steady degradation of the water quality in Zandvlei.

That, he said, had frustrated the public and spawned a multitude of theories and opinions on the cause of the problem and possible solutions.

“Would it be so difficult to compile and release a short monthly report indicating the various test results with graphs reflecting the general trends (good or bad) for public consideration?” he asked.

Friends of Zeekoeivlei and Rondevlei (FOZR) chairman Sidney Jacobs said they had called a meeting with the City on Friday February 25 to discuss what still needed to be done for the water bodies to recover from all the sewage spills in recent months.

Mr Jacobs said FOZR had presented the City with a “detailed new proposal” on how the water body could recover.

“We were very impressed that so many city officials attended and that the meeting was held in an atmosphere of complete openness,” he said.

Mayoral committee member for water Zahid Badroodien confirmed the meeting and said that over the past four months, the City had done continuous water-quality testing at various points in Zandvlei to track the levels and impact of pollution entering the vlei.

During that time, he said, the tests had shown persistently high levels of faecal coliforms (Escherichia coli) within the vlei, which had indicated an elevated risk to human health, and so Zandvlei had remained closed and the public had been advised to avoid all contact with the water until pollution levels were within national guidelines for recreational water use.

However, recent tests had confirmed that the E coli count was generally within the guidelines for intermediate recreational contact at various points within Zandvlei.

“The City will keep on monitoring the water quality at Zandvlei and keep the public informed,” he said.

An aerial view of Zeekoevlei