If you paddle on the Milnerton Lagoon, don’t splash your canoeing companions and if you tip over, make sure you keep your mouth closed.
This is the advice kayakers follow, as taking a dip in the lagoon means running the risk gastro-intestinal illnesses and ear, nose and throat infections.
The lagoon’s water quality, according to the latest Inland and Coastal Water Quality Report released by the City, has steadily decreased over the last three years, with it failing intermediate contact recreational use for 65% of the year.
For the period July 2012 to June 2013 it had a lowly 35% compliance rate, down from a 65% compliance rate in July 2011 to June 2012.
Canoeist Marco Zumpt, who is affiliated to the Milnerton Canoe Club (MCC), said although he has never contracted any illness as result of canoeing on the lagoon, he knows fellow canoeists who contracted “tummy bugs”, and diarrhea.
“Guys get sick on occasion getting bugs from the water,” said Zumpt.
“On occasion they dump whole lot of sewage which you can actually smell. You can see it in the wild life too. Alien corals growing, proving to be a problem,” said Zumpt.
“At the moment we have got Australian coral worm,” said MCC coach Gregory Van Heerden, who has been canoeing on the lagoon since 1994.
Australian coral worm thrives in nutrient-rich water.
However Van Heerden said the Lagoon was a difficult stretch body of water to maintain as it was fed by the Diep River which ran through Swartland farmland where it was contaminated by fertilizers, herbicides and animal faeces, before running past the Doornbach informal settlement next to Du Noon, where it was further contaminated by human waste.
As a result he made sure he did not fall out his canoe and did not paddle too close to his colleagues in case he got splashed by mistake.
He’s noticed the change in the lagoon’s ecosystem.
“The sand used to be clean, there were lots of birds and fish which is not the case now.”
He said about seven people had left the MCC to rather practice their sport on cleaner waters.
Environmentalist Andy Birkinshaw, a longtime Table View resident, said suburban growth contributed to deteriorating water quality as stormwater flowed to the lagoon, including stormwater from the Montague Gardens industrial area.
He said he had received complaints from canoeist that any cut they received while paddling got infected, and dogs that swam in the lagoon often had to visit a vet in the days thereafter.
Mayco Member for Roads Transport and Stormwater Brett Herron said stormwater from surrounding suburbs and from Doornbach negatively affected water quality.
Herron said the Potsdam Waste Water Treatment Works (PWWTW) also discharges treated effluent into the river flowing into the lagoon but “the quality of this effluent is generally good”.
Heavy winter rains washing pollutants from roads and driveways and flushing out debris from drains meant water quality dropped during winter months.
Good news from the water quality report, however, was that water quality was stable or had improved at the other popular recreational water bodies: Zandvlei in Muizenberg, Zeekoevlei in Grassy Park and the Rietvlei in Table View.
Zandvlei had a 94% compliance rate, up from 88% in 2011, while Zeekoevlei was down to 88% from 91% in 2011, and Rietvlei had a 92% compliance rate, same as in 2011.
For the period January 2012 to December 2012, Rietvlei was 100% compliant.
Another notable inland water system, over which a battle against impending development is being fought, was the Princessvlei which had a compliance rate 50%, down from 72% in 2011.
The worst water system is the Soet River which flows from the Hottentots Holland through the Lwandile and Nozamo informal settlements before flowing into the sea at Strand.
It had a 23% compliance rate, lower than the Disa River flowing through Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay, which had a 56% compliance rate.
Further, the Big and Little Lotus Canals, and the Diep River and Canals had compliance rates of 26% and 45% respectively. They both flow into recognized recreational areas, with the Diep River flowing into Reitvlei and the Milnerton Lagoon, while the Big and Little Lotus Canals flowing into Zeekoevlei.
Overall, however, the long-term results for ecosystem health measured from low point in 2008 when the 27 measured systems had an average 50% compliance, have improved to the region of 60%. The graph the city supplies does not provide detailed increments.
As to coastal water quality, seven beaches in False Bay — which extends from Millers Point to Kogel Bay — failed to comply with the stringent Full Contact Recreational Standard evaluated against the SA Water Quality Guidelines for coastal marine waters.
The seven beaches to be wary of were Muizenburg, Macassar, Strand – Lourens river mouth, Strand – Woltemade, Strand – Springbok, Strand – Pier and Strand – Harmony.
On the Atlantic coastline, Melkbosstrand, Blouberg’s Big Bay, Three Anchor Bay, Rocklands, Saunders Rocks and the Kom in Kommetjie, were often non-compliant for full contact standards.
Herron urged residents and visitors to help prevent water pollution.
“Even seemingly insignificant activities like washing out your refuse bin, washing your car in the driveway, hosing your patio and driveway, using pesticides, washing tools and paintbrushes and not picking up your dog waste, actually seriously impacts the environment since these pollutants are washed into the stormwater system, and from there into rivers, wetlands and onto beaches,” he said. –Peter Luhanga