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Water SA

On-line version ISSN 1816-7950
Print version ISSN 0378-4738


BRITZ, TJ et al. Fluctuations of indicator and index microbes as indication of pollution over three years in the Plankenburg and Eerste Rivers, Western Cape, South Africa. Water SA [online]. 2013, vol.39, n.4, pp.00-00. ISSN 1816-7950.

The Plankenburg and Eerste Rivers (Western Cape) have been reported to be contaminated with faecal coliforms. Water is drawn from both rivers for irrigation of fresh produce. The potential risk in the use of these rivers as irrigation sources was assessed by determining the fluctuations of 'indicator' and 'index' microbes over 3 years. Selected physico-chemical (water temperature, pH, COD, conductivity and alkalinity) and microbiological parameters, including coliforms, faecal coliforms, Escherichia coli and enterococci, as 'indicators' of faecal pollution, and Salmonella, Listeria and Staphylococcus, as 'index' of the presence of potential pathogens, were monitored. No correlation was found between water temperature and COD (r2 = 0.0003), whereas for temperature and pH a significant trend (p = 0.0004), but low correlation (r2 = 0.108), was observed. With the exception of the faecal coliforms (E. coli), no significant trends and no correlations between temperature and the dependent variables were found. For the faecal coliforms there was a significant trend (p = 0.0289) with temperature but not a good correlation (r2 = 0.0434), but the impact of temperature over time was significant (p = 0.0047). This is important, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) and South African Department of Water Affairs (DWA) guidelines for faecal coliforms are applied, as it indicates that temperature does impact the faecal coliform numbers. The presence of indicator organisms did not only indicate unsanitary conditions, but also the presence of potential pathogens such as Staphylococcus, Klebsiella, Listeria and Salmonella. Based on these results the microbial quality of these rivers was found to be unacceptable and does not meet the WHO and DWA guidelines for safe irrigation. There was also a high risk of exposure to human pathogens when water from these rivers is used to irrigate produce that is consumed without further processing.

Keywords : Irrigation water; faecal pollution; indicator and index organisms; Plankenburg and Eerste Rivers.

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