Call for ministers to tackle city water pollution crisis

The detention pond on Milky Way Drive in Phoenix is polluted, and residents say this is caused by ineffective litter grating and a general lack of maintenance.

Mayor Dan Plato and Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell are failing in their duty to protect the Diep River estuary and other sensitive waterways from chronic pollution.

This is according to Mark Rountree, the national policy officer for the Good Party, who has written to Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy and Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, to ask them to act and protect Cape Town’s wetlands.

Milnerton residents have been battling with the City of Cape Town for years over pollution problems in the Diep River and Milnerton Lagoon.

Civic groups, such as the Milnerton Central Ratepayers’ Association (MCRA) and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), have tried to get the City end repeated sewage spills into the waterways.

Mr Rountree said he wanted the ministers to step in because Mr Plato and Mr Bredell had failed to enforce environmental laws.

“The sewage releases are causing very high levels of pollution of the sensitive watercourses and the Diep River estuary,” he said.

“The laws protecting rivers and wetlands in South Africa are good and generally more advanced than the rest of the world, but laws only work if they are enforced. It is disappointing that Plato and Bredell seem unable or unwilling to embrace their responsibility to protect communities and the environment.”

This photograph, taken last month, appears to show sewage pouring into the sea from the Milnerton Lagoon.

Caroline Marx, head of the MCRA’s environmental portfolio, said the City needed to rethink its approach to pollution.

“The unwillingness to take ownership of the problem and accept accountability is worrying. Instead, the plan seems to be to continually blame the community. The City needs to rethink its policies,” she said.

Meanwhile, Phoenix residents have reported litter and sewage polluting the detention pond on Milky Way Drive, in Phoenix. They say there is constantly litter floating in the pond and sewage spilling from a nearby pump station.

MCRA member Peter Walsh said a grate meant to trap litter at the pond, which feeds into the Milnerton Lagoon, was broken. There had been a litter problem at the pond for five years, he said.

The City needed to monitor the detention ponds in the community and find permanent solutions to the problems, he said.

Just last month, the City had to close Rietvlei because of high levels of E coli (“City closes Rietvlei after pollution spike,” Tabletalk, June 30).

Jenny Pfeifer, a Milnerton resident, said she was looking forward to the coming local government elections to show her unhappiness with City’s approach to the pollution problem.

“What they do most of the time is just blame the residents,” she said. “We are tired of hearing the same excuses all the time. The City has had years to upgrade its sewage systems, fix storm drains, provide adequate refuse removal, among other basic needs. But it hasn’t done that, and now the City wonders why they sit with such a big problem.”

Martin Kaplan, of Woodbridge Island, said: “We often see dead fish and birds at the lagoon, Diep River, Rietvlei and at various detention ponds in the area. Some people use the water for recreational purposes, like water sports and fishing. I live on the island, and I can tell you the smell gets very bad here. Next thing we’ll have to dress in hazmat suits in our own homes. It’s disgusting and embarrassing.”

According to Rudolf van Jaarsveldt, spokesman for the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Mr Bredell has been addressing “legislative non-compliance” with Mr Plato and other senior officials since November 2019.

“These relate to, inter alia, the Diep River catchment, the Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works, a number of pump stations and also the Milnerton Lagoon and estuary,” he said.

“A series of administrative notices have also, from time to time, been served by the department on the City.

“The City have major capital upgrading projects, as well as essential maintenance works programmed and budgeted for in the next four years. A joint action plan has been put in place to identify and implement short and medium term measures, whilst the City’s upgrades and tender process for the various project upgrades are in process.”

Mayco member for water and waste, Xanthia Limberg, said that indeed there was an action plan between the City and province and that there were monthly reports on the short, medium and long-term interventions being implemented.

“These reports are submitted to sub-councils and the Western Cape Government, which is available publically. However challenges around illegal development in the catchment and obstruction of City sewerage infrastructure for maintenance remain prevalent, as does misuse/abuse of the sewer system. A whole of society effort is needed to address these issues and ensure sustained improvement in the lagoon,” she said.

Ms Limberg said there were projects that are underway in the Diep River catchment area:

Upgrades to the Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works. The project is worth R2,2 billion and is set to be completed by August 2025.

Stormwater to sewer diversions to address the impact of unlawful land occupations in Dunoon/Doornbach are being designed for completion in 2023. A Dunoon Bulk Upgrade has already been completed in June 2020.

Upgrade of Koeberg Road Pump Station (including the construction of stormwater to sewer diversions in Montague Gardens) to be completed by July 2022.

Montague Gardens Bulk Sewer Upgrade: The size of this bulk sewer pipeline is being increased. City Council is this week set to approve the procurement of engineering services for this project.

Stormwater outlet litter traps to be installed by the end of 2021.