Shocking water quality at Durban beaches

Published Jul 10, 2024


A study conducted by Durban University of Technology (DUT) experts before the City hosted the HollywoodBets Durban July, has found that many of the beaches in eThekwini are not fit for human use and could have negative health implications for those that ingest the water while swimming.

The tests, which found that the City’s beaches had critical levels of E coli, were conducted on July 3, a few days before the city hosted one of its premier events, the horse race that attracts revellers from all over the country.

DUT experts said E coli should range between 0-200 to be safe for use; above 200 means the water is poor and should not be used for recreational activity; above 400 means the water is critical.

The DUT findings showed that the recordings at the different beaches ranged from 200 to 400 and higher.

The City’s opposition councillors said the findings were not surprising and were an indication that a change of leadership is required to turn the City around.

In a statement, DUT said the Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology (IWWT) conducted water quality tests at some of Durban’s popular beach destinations (swimming and non-swimming).

According to Professor Faizal Bux, director of the IWWT at DUT, the results from the beaches under evaluation were alarming.

He confirmed that Westbrook Beach, Umdloti Beach, Glenashley Beach, Virginia Beach, uMngeni River, uMngeni River mouth, Laguna Beach, Country Club Beach, Bay of Plenty and Addington Beach had critical levels of Escherichia coli (E coli) in the water.

Bux revealed that only two beaches –Bronze Beach and uMhlanga Lighthouse – had acceptable levels of E coli in the water and tested as ideal, while uShaka Beach had lower levels of E coli.

“Compared to the other Durban beaches, uShaka Beach showed lower levels of E coli. The water quality at other beaches were ‘critical’ and the IWWT scientists advised beachgoers that these beaches should not be used for recreational purposes until the E coli levels drop to acceptable standards,” said Bux.

He indicated that historically the mouth of the uMngeni River has always presented critical levels of E coli.

“Those beaches that substantially exceed the E coli counts should not be used for recreational purposes as it can impact on a person’s health if contaminated water is ingested.

“As much as I cannot allude to the cause with certainty, it is most likely attributed to sewer pump station discharge or stormwater outlets,” he said.

DA councillor Thabani Mthethwa said this was not surprising.

“We saw it coming. Millions of rand have been allocated to fixing and repairing the northern wastewater treatment plant, but uMngeni River remains highly polluted,” he said.

“Last week we wrote to the city manager and the head of water and sanitation together with the head of internal audit for them to provide us with a report of what has been done and procured in that site and value for money certificate, because we believe that there might be questions about the quality of work and materials being used there. We will leave no stone unturned until we uncover the true state of what is happening.”

IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said the City’s saving grace is the winter season, when the beaches are not busy, “but that does not mean they should be polluted with E coli”.

ActionSA councillor Zwakele Mncwango said this was the reason they had taken the City to court – to force it to fix its infrastructure.

“The City has failed to fix infrastructure. The E coli at beaches can’t just be high, it’s high because we have an environment that is dirty because of sewage spilling into rivers and the sea.

“These levels are affecting the very same economy that we are championing, and job creation. There is no way you can attract investment and tourists under these conditions, and you will never create employment under these conditions,” he said.

Municipal spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said the DUT test results cannot be confirmed, adding that the City continuously conducts beach water quality sampling.

A report by the City on its testing on July 1 showed that the central beaches were between excellent and acceptable.

Those that recorded high levels were at 364, which is still acceptable.

Among northern beaches, Westbrook Beach was flagged as the E coli recording was at 865 and the beach was closed, while in the southern beaches, only two were high – Ansteys at 880, which is closed, and Reunion at 19 863 and it is closed.

The spokesperson said: “The critical levels of contamination cannot be confirmed. Westbrook Beach in the north is currently temporarily closed for swimming. In total, 20 bathing beaches out of 23 are open for swimming. Virginia

Beach, uMngeni River, and uMngeni River mouth are designated non-swimming/non-bathing beaches.

“The most recent water quality results for Laguna Beach, Country Club Beach, Bay of Plenty, and Addington Beach reveal satisfactory results that are safe and permissible for bathing,” she said.

Brett Tungay, Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa East Coast chairperson, said the figures were worrying as they had been assured by the City two weeks ago that there was rehabilitation in terms of the water treatment works.

Jeanie Sarno of uMhlanga Tourism said they were baffled by the recent studies as the area had not had rain that would have influenced the E coli levels.

The Mercury