Sewage spill could sink scouts’ raft contest

There has been another sewage spill at Zandvlei just ahead of the Kon-Tiki raft-building challenge due to be held there by the scouts this weekend.

A major scouting event, due to be held at Zandvlei this weekend, is threatened by another sewage spill in the vlei, less than a month after the City reopened it to the public.

The latest spill happened on Friday March 11, and it comes a week before the Kon-Tiki raft-building challenge at the sea scout base on the vlei this weekend.

While a question mark yet again hangs over Zandvlei’s water quality, the vlei, for now, remains open for recreational use as the City waits to learn the results of water testing.

Water samples were taken on Friday March 11 and Tuesday March 15, according to Kyran Wright, the manager of Zandvlei Nature Reserve.

Mr Wright could not say how long the results would take “as it does vary”, and he referred the Echo to the City’s scientific services or catchment management divisions, which did not respond to questions by deadline. It is unclear whether the event will go ahead if the water results are not available by tomorrow, Friday March 18.

Kon-Tiki takes its name from the 1947 expedition led by Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl, who sailed on a wooden raft, named Kon-Tiki after an Inca god, across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands.

The event is held annually at the sea scout base, although it has been cancelled for the past two years because of Covid. Competing scout troops each build a raft from drums, rope and poles, and members of each team stay on the raft for 24 hours.

In February, the City’s water-quality testing was called into question by the Milnerton Aquatic Club (MAC), which has a clubhouse in the Rietvlei Nature Reserve.

They felt the City had erred in closing Rietvlei last year, and subsequent testing the club did at its own expense, in December, showed results that differed from the City’s.

At the time, the club’s conservation officer, Katja Haslinger, said: “We had found almost no E coli and concluded that the water was safe for recreational use.”

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, and Rietvlei, Zandvlei and Zeekoeivlei were subsequently opened to the public.

The City admitted in a statement last month that there were deviations in its results compared to those obtained by the other three laboratories (“Questions over City’s water testing,” Echo, March 2).

However, following last week’s spill, no press release was issued by the City to inform the public of such.

Mr Wright said “an email was sent out to all Protected Area Advisory Committee members, stakeholders and community groups, as well as affected ward councillors”.

The email, he said, informed the affected parties that sewage was entering the Sand River and users of the vlei were advised to exercise caution and avoid the northern section of the vlei.

The email, which he sent to the Echo after its enquiry on Monday, stated that “the issue has been identified and rectified, but there is still sewage in the stormwater lines, which is entering the river. Bio enzymes have been used and water sampling will be conducted today (Friday) and early next week (Tuesday) to assess the severity of the contamination”.

Mr Wright said the communication was shared widely through social media and WhatsApp groups.

“We generally do not issue a press release for sewage spills unless there is a severe and immediate threat to public health,” he said.

Ward councillor Aimee Kuhl said she “could not comment comprehensively” when the Echo asked her if the vlei had been closed again and she referred the Echo to Mr Wright.

The Echo contacted the regional coordinator for water activities of Scouts South Africa in the Western Cape, Craig Burchell-Burger, to find out if they were aware of the spill and what arrangements would be made for the upcoming event should the vlei be closed, but he declined to comment.