New committee to tackle water pollution

Milnerton Central Ratepayers’ Association’s Caroline Marx, seen here at a protest last year against water pollution, has been appointed as a member of a committee advising the mayor on water issues.

Milnerton Central Residents’ Association deputy chairwoman Caroline Marx says the mayor’s newly-appointed water advisory committee should reassure residents their water worries are being addressed.

The committee – to which Ms Marx and others were appointed on Wednesday April 6 – is meant to improve communication between City officials, councillors, experts and activists and seek solutions to water-related problems.

The committee was approved by council and will be referred to as the Water Quality in Wetlands and Waterways Advisory Committee.

Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis also announced that the city’s water-quality data would now be shared publicly.

He formed the committee amid widespread public concerns about rapidly increasing pollution levels in vleis and rivers. The mayor chairs the committee while councillor Alex Lansdowne, who is also an experienced botanist and conservationist, will manage the committee.

The city’s waterways comprise 1 910km of rivers and streams and 4 164 natural and semi-natural wetlands, including vleis and estuaries, according to Mr Hill-Lewis.

Deputy mayor Eddie Andrews, who doubles as the mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment; mayoral committee member for water Dr Zahid Badroodien and councillor Maryam Manuel are also on the committee.

Additional members are aquatic ecologists Dr Liz Day and Dr Kevin Winter, Professor Jenny Day, community conservation specialist Denisha Anand, environmental compliance expert Phillip McLean, Khayelitsha wetlands manager Sinethemba Luthango and Ms Marx.

Marx, a pharmacist by profession, describes herself as a community activist who is trying to improve the water quality of the wetlands.

The formation of the committee should “reassure residents that the City is listening”, she said.

She had learned of the rapidly increasing pollution levels in the Diep River and Milnerton Lagoon eight years ago and had been raising the issue with the City since then, she said.

“Unfortunately, despite many meetings and promises, the pollution continued to worsen and has still not been resolved,” Ms Marx said.

“Like many Cape Town residents, I enjoy and appreciate its natural beauty and feel our environment needs to be protected.”

The committee’s deputy chairperson, Alex Landsdowne, asked her to join the committee after noticing her efforts to lobby the City, the provincial government, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse and the national Department of Water and Sanitation.

Asked what immediate challenges the committee faced, Ms Marx said: “The causes of the pollution are multiple and complex and often not easily resolved so issues will need to be addressed as they arise.

“A current concern raised is the City’s proposal to consider allowing developers to install ‘package’ sewage-treatment plants in some areas, and the committee has asked for more detail around how these plants will be managed and monitored.”

Frequent sewage spills into the stormwater water system – along with discharges of poorly treated effluent, “illegal discharges”, dumping and littering – destroyed biodiversity in Milnerton Lagoon and city rivers, including the Diep River, she said.

Ms Marx and the committee met for the first time last week where officials presented an overview of the mayoral priority plan to tackle the issues.

“These plans were very encouraging; however, effective timely implementation is key,” Ms Marx said.

Announcing the committee, Mr Hill-Lewis said its terms of reference included communicating with the relevant protected area advisory committees; holding workshops with stakeholders and encouraging strategic partnerships with organisations and stakeholders; encouraging the development of catchment management plans for priority catchments; finding solutions and making recommendations related to catchment drainage and sewage outfalls where coastal water quality is affected; and carrying out research and inspections.