River quality forces event change

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 27 March 2010

Organisers of a second East London swimming event have decided to change the venue over fears of the quality of water in one of the city’s major rivers.

Gonubie River Estuary. Photo by 'philrickerby'.

Janine Vorster of the Mako Masters Swim Club said they had been closely monitoring the results of the Dispatch River Watch campaign and were all set to host the Mako Masters 5km Swim Challenge in the Gonubie River at Tidewaters on April 10. “But the results (from River Watch) on March 6 (5280 CFU/100ml), were enough for us to call an emergency committee meeting and we unanimously decided to change the venue to Wriggleswade Dam, following on the success of the Merrifield Mile.”

Earlier this year the popular Merrifield Mile, which forms part of the Buffalo City Tri-Challenge, was moved from the Nahoon River to Wriggleswade Dam. One of the reasons given for the swim’s relocation was the fears surrounding the quality of water in the Nahoon River, where the event had taken place for seven years.

“With last week’s astronomical count (24 000 CFU/100ml) – understandably due to the sewage leak – and public perception about East London’s rivers, we are satisfied that we have made the right move from Gonubie, even though it means added PR in advertising the change of venue and date,” said Vorster.

The Mako Masters Swim Challenge will now take place on April 11 at Wriggleswade Dam.

Tourism Buffalo City CEO Peter King said the tourism industry used the city’s estuaries as one of the key recreational and environmental attractions of the region to lure visitors to East London.

“It is therefore cause for deep concern that we are confronted with regular scares around the faecal contamination levels of some of these rivers,” he said. “If the roots of such problems are not addressed decisively and effectively, there is no question that the tourism industry in Buffalo City will be negatively affected.”

Buffalo City Municipality spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said organisers could choose whichever venues they thought were most suitable. “(But) in as far as the particular event is concerned, it is rather unfortunate that such decisions are based on fears,” he said. “As you point out this is the second event that has been re-directed based on perceptions.

“As far as the facts are concerned, our last test conducted in the area on Monday confirmed to us that it is a (safe venue), with all results at zero while the beach was below 23.”

Meanwhile the final round of samples taken in the Dispatch’s River Watch campaign did not yield any major surprises. The Ihlanza River again returned the highest count of 28 000 CFU/100ml, followed by the Blind River with 1680 CFU/100ml. Gonubie River returned two low counts of 60 and zero from samples taken at Tidewaters and Pop’s Cabin respectively.

“Over the test period we’ve noticed periodic spillages into the environment at Tidewaters, but the die-off rate of the bacteria has been quick because the counts further down at Pop’s Cabin have all been low,” said Wayne Selkirk of Monitor Laboratories. He cautioned river users not to overreact to the test results. “I think the perception of risk is much higher than the actual risk.”

by Andrew Stone
Source: Dispatch Online

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