MOSSEL BAY NEWS AND VIDEO - Only hours after the Department of Environmental Affairs issued approval for breaching the Hartenbos River mouth, a mechanical digger and heavy duty machinery were put into work to open the river mouth early on Tuesday morning, 4 December.
This was the culmination of weeks of ardent lobbying and dedicated, behind-the-scenes work to convince the relevant national government departments of the need for an emergency breaching, especially as independent tests conducted by the Hartenbos River Forum (HRF) indicated pollution in the river was escalating and posing a potential risk to humans.
The Mossel Bay Municipality late last week issued a notice and posted sign boards along the river, prohibiting all recreational use of the river.
Arguing for the urgent breach of the river, the Hartenbos River Forum stated in a letter to the municipality that "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."
The forum argued that to mechanically breach the Hartenbos River mouth "is the only ecologically sustainable way to ensure adequate tidal exchange".
Without fresh seawater washing into the estuary there is little hope to rescue the ecosystem, into which thousands of litres of treated and purified wastewater is released.
Both the forum and municipality say the poor water quality cannot be ascribed only to the treated and purified wastewater released into the river.
Chair of the forum, Phillip Vermaak, argues that the rising levels of e-coli can in part be ascribed to both biological as well as human factors.
He says the rotting of salt water organisms, trapped in the fresh water after the river mouth became blocked again, may be a contributor.
Residents are asked to report the illegal dumping of any substances into the river, especially of diesel and sewage.
Blue Flag status
Municipal manager Advocate Thys Giliomee said the municipality, in association with the Hartenbos River Forum, repeatedly requested official permission to open the mouth.
He reiterated that the municipality had no executive authority to breach the river. Permission was eventually granted by the Department of Environmental Affairs by late Monday afternoon, and first thing on Tuesday morning representatives of the forum and municipality met at the river to determine the most appropriate course to ensure the most sustainable result.
Advocate Giliomee assures residents that the water of both the Blue Flag Hartenbos Beach as well as the river estuary will regularly be tested in accordance with applicable legislation and prescripts.
He said: "These water samples are tested for e-coli, pH, faecal streptococci and ammonia by Pathcare and are sent to Pathcare laboratories in Cape Town. Should any markers indicate any problem, remedial action will immediately follow. It is also mandatory to submit the regulated test results to the Blue Flag organisers."
The municipality warns that there is no certainty that the river mouth will remain open despite regular mechanical breaching.
Managing the sensitive estuary is an ongoing and dedicated process informed by various pieces of legislation and carefully drafted management plans.
The Hartenbos River Forum, Mossel Bay Municipality and relevant departments regularly meet and perform a valuable oversight role to ensure the sustainability of the sensitive estuary.
Watch a video below.
'We bring you the latest Mossel Bay, Garden Route news'