Buffalo River needs attention
By Khuthala Nandipha
Following continued rumours of rowers and parents catching E.coli from the Buffalo River during the 133rd international Buffalo Regatta hosted in East London in February, the Buffalo City Municipality Metro has assured that solutions are in motion.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria is caught from contaminated water or food, especially raw vegetables and undercooked ground beef. It is said to be mostly harmless, just causing relatively brief diarrhoea. When it is severe, it can cause abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhoea and vomiting.
The East London Boating Association Committee confirmed that there were some parents and rowers who suffered from diarrhoea, before and during the period of the Regatta. No specific incidents were reported of rowers suffering from exposure to E. coli. They could not confirm whether those conditions were exclusively caused by the Buffalo River or not.
The Metro stated that it is implementing short and long term solutions to solve the issue of flows into the Buffalo river system, including the rains that bring waste from Duncan Village into the river. Heavy rains were experienced in East London a week before the official start of the Regatta.
“We have a R49m solid waste project in Duncan Village which will reduce solid waste finding its way into the Buffalo River. In the long term, it’s all systems go for the R435m Reeston tunnel sewerage line which will reduce risk of sewerage contamination of the Buffalo system. The tunnel will divert liquid waste from the central waste treatment works to bring relief to the City’s aging infrastructure,” detailed Samkelo Ngwenya, spokesperson for the Metro.
Jacques Buchner, Chairperson of the ELBA Committee attributes the dirty state of the river to the substantial flooding and debris, causing the water to be dirtier than usual. A collaborative clean-up effort was embarked upon the day before, continuing each day.
“During this period, substantial improvement in the water quality was monitored. It is common knowledge that South African rivers are not as clean as we would like them to be, and the flooding made it worse,” said Buchner.
Aside from the Metro’s plans, a stakeholder meeting is being arranged for March 2020 with representatives from the Department of Environmental Affairs, Buffalo City, Transnet and the ELBA to discuss a joint effort to improve the water quality of the Buffalo River.
“The intention is to develop a strategy with measurable objectives and time frames to ensure and maintain a cleaner Buffalo River.
The association would like to see initiatives such as management of litter, especially during flooding. The management of sewerage infrastructure at the two creeks opposite the ELBA facilities is also called for.
According to Buchner, the MEC of Dedeat and BCMM Mayor have shown personal interest in ensuring that everything possible is done to improve the quality of the water in East London. There is a possibility of a partnership with an international Non-Profit Organisation to improve the ecology and create environment within which rowers can conduct their sport.
Over 2000 visitors spend between three and seven days in East London during the course of the three regattas.
“The downstream benefits are substantial for restaurants, guest houses, transport companies and gear shops. This year’s Regatta was attended by representatives of Lower Saxony who is planning to send German coaching staff to the Eastern Cape and to bring rowers from Germany to partake in future Regattas,” said Buchner.
Walter Sisulu University and Fort Hare Universities competed for the first time in the championship, something the Association considers to be brilliant for the development and growth of the sport.
Buchner commended representatives from Transnet, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, BCMM and the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture for keeping up to date with the progress of the clean-up of the river, post the flood.
“It is apparent that provincial and local government is taking the event seriously. I have no doubt that they will assist in solutions towards ensuring a cleaner Buffalo River.
The E.coli rumours have become as regular as the regattas. Often people suspect that they are water-related, but there is a claim that they could be due to athletes not using the safe onsite catering.
“The regatta is a key event to the City. We will happily work with their organising team and the ECDC on solutions to some of the challenges raised,” said Ngwenya.