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‘Dusi guts’ concerns won’t stop canoeists | News


Despite water quality in Pietermaritzburg rivers being at its lowest since 1998, it is highly unlikely organisers of the Dusi Canoe Marathon will cancel the race.

The Daily News spoke to several top contenders in the 2015 Dusi, who all said they would still race, despite a report by Umgeni Water showing the water quality had deteriorated over the years because of increased sewage.

Andy Birkett, who has four Dusi wins to his name, including the 2014 edition alongside S’bonelo Zondi, said he had some concerns about the water quality.

“You do run the risk of getting sick, and having Dusi guts is a real setback. You’re dehydrated, at half strength, but there’s not much you can do to prevent it. You avoid swallowing water but you’re still going to get sprayed in the rapids.”

Birkett said paddlers usually felt the effects of Dusi guts on the second or third day.

“In 2011 I battled with it on the last day. Once, when training, I got it about a week before the Dusi and lost about 5kg.”

His training at Camp’s Drift had possibly built up an immunity to germs in that area, but he was concerned about the long-term effects on his liver.

Zondi said canoeists hoped for rain in the next few days to wash out the water and increase the levels.

“I had bilharzia about three years ago (from the river) and was sick for a week, but I haven’t been sick during a race yet. We’re taking medication to prevent the risk.”

Abby Adie, who has won a number of canoe races and hopes to add the Dusi to her list of wins, said she was taking probiotics to build up her system for the race.

“If you don’t fall out of your canoe you’re usually safe. And as long is there is no big storm the night before, it should be fine.”

Two-time winner of the Dusi, Hank McGregor, said besides the potential for sickness, the low water levels were also taxing on paddlers’ equipment.

“In the low water the boat really takes strain and it’s not cost effective. We really need rain now to flush the river out.”

Dusi spokesman, Dave Macleod, said the real concern for race organisers was a storm right before the race.

“If the next few weeks are dry and then we have a storm just before the marathon, then the build-up of wastes from the banks washes into the deteriorating the water quality and there is a spike in the E. coli count,” he said.

“It happened once before and there were a number of guys who got ‘Dusi guts’.”

Macleod said, however, that even if the water is at “very dangerous” levels of E. coli, there was no risk of fatality and paddlers were free to participate in the race at their discretion.

Paddlers are kept informed with water quality monitoring data freely available on the race website. In the run-up to the Dusi, almost 30 sites along the rivers in Pietermaritzburg are monitored daily.

“Tracking the last 10 years, our two biggest issues are the decreased water quality because of the urban growth in the Pietermaritzburg area, and the alien vegetation which DUCT (Dusi uMngeni Conservation Trust) is doing a great job at tackling,” Macleod said. “The vegetation is no threat to the race.”

Umgeni Water’s corporate stakeholder manager, Shami Harichunder, said there was increased water monitoring in the run-up to the Dusi, which runs from February 19 to 21.

“We intensify the monitoring to identify problem areas and then relay this information to Msunduzi Municipality,” Harichunder said. “The municipality acts swiftly to reduce the extent of the contamination.”

He said 50 percent of the water from Henley Dam was released into the Msunduzi River about 48 hours before the start of the marathon which raised water levels and provided more clean water for the paddlers.

“The water eventually goes into Inanda Dam so there is no real loss of water.”

- Published in Independent Newspapers on 12 January 2015.

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