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Durban beaches closed twice over the past week over foul uMgeni River water

The discolouration of the uMgeni River raised alarm bells for conservationists over the river’s health so environmentalist group Adopt a River took their own samples. Picture: Adopt a River

The discolouration of the uMgeni River raised alarm bells for conservationists over the river’s health so environmentalist group Adopt a River took their own samples. Picture: Adopt a River

Published Jan 10, 2022

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The discolouration of the uMgeni River raised alarm bells for conservationists over the river’s health so environmentalist group Adopt a River took their own samples. Picture: Adopt a River

Durban beaches have been closed twice over the past week, first for a murky substance in the uMgeni River and now for E. coli levels but the eThekwini municipality remained unfettered about losing its blue flag statuses.

On Wednesday, the municipality closed seven Durban beaches after the “uMgeni River discharged abnormal murky waters to beaches”.

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They were North, Bay of Plenty, Battery, Country Club 1 and 2, eThekwini and Laguna beaches

A day later, the decision was reversed as test results showed the discharge was caused by hyacinth plants upriver, which often occurred during summer.

Msawakhe Mayisela, eThekwini municipality’s spokesperson, said the plants naturally occurred and the tests revealed the water was free of any pollution “that may pose threat to life”.

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The discolouration of the uMgeni River raised alarm bells for conservationists over the river’s health and the safety of those who were reliant on it. Picture: Adopt a River

According to environmentalist Kuben Samie, hyacinths are water weeds with no known associated toxicity.

“Interestingly, the invasion of hyacinth is due to the sewage or nutrient pollution of the river system.

“This has happened upstream in Inanda Dam.

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“It thrives on nutrient-rich water, mostly as a result of sewage pollution.”

However, the municipality indefinitely closed their beaches once again on Friday but this time it was over high levels of E. coli – a bacteria often found in sewage.

They were South, North, Bay of Plenty, Sun Coast Beach, Country Club and uMgeni Beaches.

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Mayisela said the levels of this bacteria were compounded by the unceasing vandalism of one of the city’s sewerage pump stations and abnormal heavy rains that were unceasingly washing waste from multitudes of informal settlements, along the uMgeni river to the river.

Ward councillor Rory McPherson said the hyacinth closure was confusing, but once he learnt about the second closure and that the plants thrived when there was pollution, he was not surprised.

“Where there is smoke there will always be fire. It is an unfortunate turn of events that need to be resolved.”

Janet Simpkins, the director of Adopt-a-River, said the health of the uMgeni River had always been a concern.

“Water samples have been taken that we have given to the municipality. While the river has had extremely high E. coli levels, our concern was the threat it could have on wildlife, fisherfolk and paddlers.”

Meanwhile, Mayisela said the closure of beaches would always have a devastating impact on economic prospects but they did their best in the moment to address and resolve concerns.

Durban currently has 13 beaches with Blue Flag statuses, which the municipality was determined to retain.

They are uShaka, North, Point, South, Anstey’s, Brighton, uMhlanga main, Westbrooke, Umdloti, Bronze, Toti and Umgababa beaches.

Over the last year, Durban beaches had closed on multiple occasions for reasons including Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and contamination, like the UPL spillage during the July unrest.

Mayisela said issues pertaining to sewage and waste infrastructure were rare occurrences.

SUNDAY TRIBUNE

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