The public was warned to steer clear of the popular Hartenbos River along the Garden Route several weeks ago, as the quality of the water was revealed to be extremely poor. Effectively, this meant that no swimming, bait collection or fishing was allowed.

Tests showed the river itself and nearby beach were of poor water quality, and the Mossel Bay Municipality had to wait on the Department of Environmental Affairs to make the decision on whether to open the river mouth or not.

“Municipalities are monitoring the water quality of the river and the Blue Flag beach and will inform the public immediately should there be any change. Signboards have been erected at various points to warn the public accordingly,” Rowena Hendricks, Marketing and Communications Officer for Mossel Bay Municipality, said to the Mossel Bay Observer.

A mechanical digger and heavy duty machinery arrived on Tuesday, December 4, to begin the breach of the Hartenbos River mouth mere hours after the Department of Environmental Affairs’ approval. This followed after weeks of lobbying to convince the relevant national government departments to see the need for an emergency breaching, as independent testing conducted by the Hartenbos River Forum (HRF) revealed the river’s pollution and risk to humans.

As reported to the Mossel Bay Observer, the HRF wrote a letter to the municipality, stating: “…the river and estuary are clearly a highly disturbed ecosystem that requires urgent intervention to facilitate proper tidal exchange, as it is the only sustainable way to limit further damage to the ecosystem. Tidal exchange can only be facilitated through a mechanical breaching intervention.”

If fresh seawater does not wash into the estuary, there is little to no hope of rescuing the ecosystem as thousands of litres of treated and purified wastewater is released into it.

Both the forum and municipality agree that the poor water quality could not solely be attributed to the wastewater flowing into the estuary – the rising level of e-coli found there may be caused by both human and biological factors.

Rotting saltwater organisms, which become trapped when the river mouth is blocked, may contribute to this as well.

The Hartenbos River has been re-opened this morning and all signage removed. The river may thus be used for recreational purposes again, including swimming, fishing and collecting bait.

The latest lab test results showed a great improvement in the water quality of the River and that the values for Faecal Strep and E-coli are now within the acceptable limits in terms of the 2012 South African Water Quality Guidelines for Coastal Marine Waters: Volume 2 Guidelines for Recreational Use. 

The improvement in water quality is mainly due to tidal exchange following the breaching of the river last week.

The Municipality will continue to monitor the water quality of the Hartenbos River and will inform the public immediately should there be any change.

Source: Mossel Bay Observer

Picture: Twitter

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