Forget the beaches; eThekwini Municipality rivers could be root cause of E. coli problem

The report shows the state of rivers in the eThekwini Municipality. Picture: Screenshot/ October State of Rivers Report

The report shows the state of rivers in the eThekwini Municipality. Picture: Screenshot/ October State of Rivers Report

Published Dec 15, 2023


Since the beginning of the year, the quality of rivers in the eThekwini Municipality has consistently dropped with subsequent increases in E. coli levels, according to reports on the city’s website.

There are 10 reports titled EWS Rivers with River Quality from January until October 2023, all of which measure the E. coli count and categorise them accordingly, from ideal to acceptable to poor to critical.

Almost every river that leads to the coastline in eThekwini is in critical condition.

The only “acceptable” rivers that lead to the ocean are found on the south coast, after Kingsburgh Wastewater Treatment Works, and one up north, in Tongaat.

These reports were compiled by the City’s Water and Sanitation Engineering and Data Services department.

From the first report in January until the most recent report made available, which entails October’s findings, there has been an increase in the number of rivers entering the “critical” state.

These reports are available to access via the municipality’s website under the documents tab.

This does support the statement made by the city that E. coli levels rise during heavy rains due to the number of rivers flowing into the ocean.

“It is common to have poor water quality when heavy rains continue to batter the city. This results in pollution, including foreign objects washing from rivers and streams, as well as other water sources, into the ocean,” the municipality said this week after releasing test results.

But these reports also give an explanation as to why heavy rains cause the Durban beaches to become polluted with bacteria in the first place.

Maybe it's because the rivers themselves are breeding grounds for bacteria and infection.

The Umgeni River water has turned greenish-murky due to the sewage spill that has contaminated the water. Picture: Tumi Pakkies / Independent Newspapers

But downstream, the eThekwini Municipality maintains that most of its beaches are safe for use and open for tourists to enjoy.

Whether or not this is true is the question many are asking, including tourists from other provinces who have booked stays in Durban for the holiday season.

One of which was Johannesburg-based IOL journalist Sihle Mlambo, who booked a getaway in Durban for his family but was worried about reports of the beaches closing due to unsafe health conditions.

The test results were based on the water sampled on December 7, 2023. Picture: Facebook / Talbot

The city’s testing E. coli results have been published by Talbot, the art of water.

Just three days ago, Talbot published a report for a test it conducted on December 7, which showed that six main beaches along the Golden Mile were infested with E. coli.

On Thursday, they published another report for a test conducted on December 12, which showed the same six beaches were safe for use.

Test results were based on the water sampled on December 12, 2023. Picture: Facebook/Talbot

The comments section of Talbot’s post indicated that the high salt content in the ocean, coupled with currents and tides, may have played a hand in the drastic change in conditions.

But further up the river, where many South African communities have formed their homesteads, the state of the water is a dismal affair.

This is evident in the 10 reports showing the state of eThekwini’s rivers.

IOL has asked the city what its plan is to fix the state of rivers in the metropolitan area, seeing as though they are the sources of the fluctuating E. coli levels along the Durban coastline.

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