Untreated sewage is allegedly polluting Cape Town rivers. Pictures: Supplied.
Untreated sewage is allegedly polluting Cape Town rivers. Pictures: Supplied.

Stink over ongoing city river pollution

By Shanice Naidoo Time of article published Sep 19, 2020

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The City of Cape Town has been accused of dragging its feet over the polluted Diep River problem.

The river has been identified as one of several polluted rivers in the city.

These include the Disa River in Hout Bay; Salt River, also known as the Black River, flowing out at Paarden Eiland; Big Lotus River; Kuils River; and Soet River. The Diep River runs from Malmesbury into Milnerton Lagoon and into the sea at Lagoon Beach.

“The department did an investigation into this matter in November (which involved numerous inspections and water-quality monitoring samples) and issued a pre-directive (dated March 26, 2020) to the City of Cape Town for the ongoing pollution being caused to the Diep River and Milnerton Lagoon, as a result of partially/untreated sewage emanating from the Potsdam Waste Water Treatment Works and other stormwater canals flowing into the Diep River Catchment,” said Rudolf van Jaarsveldt, head of communication at the provincial department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning.

Caroline Marx, from the Milnerton Central Residents’ Association, said there was increasing pollution in the river for the past 10 years.

“Potsdam Waste Water Treatment (WWTW) has continued to contribute to the enormous problem.

“We have repeatedly raised this matter. The City was issued with a predictive from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning instructing them to take measures to deal with the situation,” said Marx.

She said there was good work done in the background but it was not sufficient.

“It’s six months later and we’re still sitting with a highly polluted river and lagoon. A clean environment should not be a political problem, it’s a service delivery issue and denying the problem does not solve it,” said Marx.

She said the Department of Sanitation issued a pre-directive in December.

“Initially, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning received the complaint of concern on water quality issues in the Diep River. The department issued a notice to hold the City and its officials accountable to rectify the issue,” said spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, Sputnik Ratau.

“The City of Cape Town also provided an action plan for the proposed upgrades of the Potsdam WWTW.

“The stormwater management unit of the City of Cape Town provided an Action Plan for the management of stormwater/urban runoff contributing to the pollution of the Diep River,” said Ratau.

He said the DWS institutional establishment component advised the City of Cape Town that the matter was being handed over to the compliance monitoring and enforcement unit to investigate the non-compliance.

He said the matter was investigated and as per the directive protocol of the department, the City was allowed representation and the department provided assistance and support to the City by guidance throughout the whole investigation.

The City did raise concerns on some of the conditions of the issued water use licence and that they would not be in a position to meet those conditions.

Mayco member for water and waste Xanthea Limberg said: “The City can report that final effluent quality at Potsdam has vastly improved over the past four to five months, and that effluent leaving the facility would not cause noticeable deterioration of the receiving environment. It is therefore misleading to claim the plant is responsible for conditions in the river.”

She said high levels of illegal development and co-ordinated land invasions in the river catchment were also playing a big role in damaging this environment, and would more likely explain perceptions that water quality has been deteriorating over the past 10 years.

“In terms of trying to reduce the impact of this pollution, conveyed by the stormwater system, four major projects totalling R57.5 million are commencing. Regarding Potsdam specifically, there were faults at this plant at the beginning of the year which did have a noticeable effect on the quality of the lagoon, and this is what is likely behind the enduring suspicion around the performance of this facility.

“Urgent repairs since that incident have, however, taken place and the quality of effluent leaving the plant currently is vastly improved and generally in line with licence conditions,” Limberg said.

She said to help residents avoid health risks, the City’s Environmental Health Department erected 28 warning signs along the Diep River, in three languages.

These signs caution the public that the water is polluted and unfit for swimming.

“Going forward, the City will continue to clear blockages as they are reported, but prevention and the impact of environmental harm lay with residents. Residents are reminded that it is illegal to use sewers to dispose of fats, rags, litter or any other item that could cause a blockage,” said Limberg.

However, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse’s Andrea Korff said independent water testing showed that there was no improvement in the river.

“We decided to run independent water testing bi-weekly along the whole river. The stormwater drain channel can be re-directed. Different interventions can be done.

“They need to focus for now on short-term and medium-term solutions and it needs to be implemented,” said Korff.

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