Durbans popular North Beach File photo: Jacques Naude

Durban -

If you go down to the beach today you could be in for a big surprise… especially if you rely on the eThekwini municipality’s online guide to beach water quality in Durban.

After a major sewage spill into the uMngeni River on Christmas Eve and fears of the potential contamination of Durban’s popular tourist beaches, The Mercury logged on to the city’s website site on Wednesday morning to check out the latest sea water quality tests – only to discover that some of the data appeared to be almost a year out of date.

The website purports to provide up-to-date information on sewage contamination, litter and other useful indicators about the city’s beaches.

When it was launched in November 2009, officials said it would help people to “make informed decisions on whether to go to the beach or to stay at home”.

Yet a beach-by-beach analysis suggests that some of the online water quality tests appear to date back to June and, in some cases, to January this year.

When the outdated online data came to light on Wednesday, a Mercury reporter went down the beachfront to inspect the information on display and discovered that this was more up to date. But six out of the nine central beaches displayed identical readings for enterococcus pollution, while four beaches also displayed identical readings for both E.coli and enterococcus pollution.

Enterococcus and E.Coli are both indicators of sewage pollution of human or animal origin.

Starting at Country Club Beach, the eThekwini signboards showed readings of 410 colony forming units (cfu)/100ml of sea water for both E.Coli and enterococcus.

An identical reading of 410 cfu for both E.Coli and enterococcus was given at Suncoast Beach, Battery Beach and Wedge Beach.

The Bay of Plenty and North Beach also had enterococcus readings of 410cfu. The test dates are recorded as December 20.

Durban parks and leisure department spokesman Christo Swart said he could not comment on the outdated information on the city’s website, nor on the similarities in sewage pollution readings at several central beaches, and referred queries to Durban water and waste chief Neil Macleod (who did not respond to The Mercury’s queries).

However, Swart said he was satisfied that none of Durban’s central beaches had been contaminated by the sewage spill into the uMngeni River on Christmas Eve.

In a statement issued on December 24, the city said a “significant volume” of sewage had leaked into the river out of the Kennedy Road sewage pump station near Springfield Park.

The city had banned swimming in the uMngeni River and in the surf within 800m north or south of the river mouth because of a health risk to people.

However, there were only four beaches within 800m south of the mouth (Blue Lagoon, Jet Ski, Laguna and Thekwini beaches) and all four were closed for construction work at the beaches close to Blue Lagoon.

Water quality tests had been done on Christmas Eve and Swart said that none of the central beaches had been contaminated by the sewage spill.

He said the sewage pump station had been repaired late on Christmas Eve and the pollution in the river and vicinity of the Blue Lagoon had been diluted rapidly, so there was no cause for concern.

The Mercury