Blue Flags and Green Drops Demonstrate the North Coast’s Commitment to Water Safety

WESSA, The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, announced recently that three of the North Coast’s most popular beaches, Blythedale, Thompson’s Bay and Willard Beach have been awarded Blue Flag status.

With water and sanitation services causing concern across the country and eThekwini suffering from sustained periods of beach closure, the North Coast stands out as a welcome bright spot. Sustained water safety for visitors and residents is a major priority for the community. Not only are the beaches subject to stringent weekly water quality testing, but the area also boasts one of just two private suppliers of water and sanitation services in South Africa. 

Safe Beaches

The Ballito Urban Improvement Precinct (UIP), supported by local residential estates, oversees a weekly water quality testing regime across eight beaches and four tidal pools in the region. Consistent testing is important, both to provide assurance that the beaches are safe to use for locals and travellers, but also to identify issues early on and quickly resolve them.

According to Jade Harding of the Ballito UIP, the independent and accredited laboratory testing run by BN Kirk aims to ensure ‘ideal’ rated water quality for swimming, surfing and other ocean activities. “‘Ideal’ is the highest ranking a beach can receive and relates to the level of colony-forming units (CFUs) per 100ml. E.coli is a well-known example of a CFU.” ‘Ideal’ levels are classified as less than 250 CFUs per 100ml, while ‘Acceptable’ is between 250-500, ‘Poor’ is over 500, with ‘Critical’ levels exceeding 2 900.

All of the beaches on the northern coastline currently rank in the “ideal” category and as such, are safe for in-water activities. Although rainfall, sea currents, strong winds, and high seas can cause test results to vary, the trend is what is most critical. The testing programme is run independently, and the results are available publicly through the Ballito UIP. This aligns with global best practice and World Health Organization (WHO) guidance.

Safe Water and Sanitation

The quality of water on the beaches depends on the quality of water in local rivers and the health of the water systems that feed them. Here the North Coast is also well equipped, boasting private water and sanitation supplier, the Siza Water Company.

Established in 1999, the Ilembe – Siza Water Concession was the first water and sanitation Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in South Africa. Shyam Misra, CEO of the Siza Water Company confirmed that water and sanitation infrastructure is in good shape heading into the season. “We serve about 80 000 people on the North Coast, which expands to up to 200 000 people for five to six weeks of the year during holiday peak seasons. We have infrastructure that allows capacity to manage this service delivery and the ability to quickly respond to maintenance issues as they arise,” he commented.

From a system suffering from more than 50% water loss in 1999, the concession has been able to reduce the loss ratio to 12-15% and is today the only sanitation system in the country that is Green Drop certified (2022). This track record was sternly tested by the drought of 2015/6 and the floods of April/May 2022, but these challenges have helped to further strengthen the system.

To cope with the 2015/16 drought, the concession built a direct reuse water recycling plant, the only one of its kind in SA. Misra confirmed, “Not only is it still running but we are completing an expansion of the plant. It saved us in drought, enabling us to lift water supply in conditions of watershedding, and it also saved us in the floods. We need to make sure that developments such as these continue to be realised.”

Following the 2022 floods that affected large parts of KwaZulu-Natal, Siza Water’s focus was to ensure that it could get safe water to all people as quickly as possible. Water supply was normalised in a month and a half and within the first two weeks after the floods, 99% of the region’s sewerage management infrastructure was back up and running, with no contamination of rivers or the ocean.

Proactive Partnership

The North Coast’s record of beach, water and sanitation safety is the result of a proactive private sector that works in partnership with the KwaDukuza and Ilembe Municipalities. Ballito UIP is a private sector partnership that works in close partnership with the KwaDukuza Municipality to bring out the best that the area has to offer.

“There is a collective consciousness for responsible water and sanitation management across both the public and private sector, and a commitment to deliver excellence in water management to our communities through consistent and active service,” Misra concluded. This collaborative approach is a model for public service delivery that would be the envy of most parts of the country. Everyone involved is working to ensure the best possible Festive Season experience for residents and holidaymakers alike.

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