Protesters flay City over vlei pollution

The Milnerton Aquatic Club held a demonstration last week calling out the City of Cape Town to clean the pollution in the Rietvlei

The City’s failure to deal swiftly with pollution in Rietvlei and other wetlands is a growing threat to public health and the environment, protesters said last week.

More than two dozen people joined the demonstration by the Milnerton Aquatic Club along the R27, on Friday. They demanded straight answers from the City about the scale and cause of the problem and called for an urgent resolution.

The City closed the Rietvlei in late June because of high E coli levels 30 times higher than what is considered safe (“Rietvlei remains closed for further testing,” Tabletalk, July 7).

Pollution has also closed Zeekoevlei and Zandvlei (“Pollution closing city wetlands one by one,” Tabletalk, July 21).

The Milnerton Aquatic Club says the situation threatens its future as well as the Table Bay Nature Reserve, which Rietvlei is part of.

Katja Haslinger, the club’s conservation officer, said the City was not being open about the root of the environmental disaster.

“We have to guess now because there could be many reasons. We suspect that the pump station near the Table View Football Club is faulty and pumping sewage into the vlei, but we don’t have any confirmation of that. That station doesn’t have a backup pump, and when there is a power failure, there isn’t another pump to assist the one that fails,” she said.

Around two dozen people showed up in support of the demonstration. They were scattered along the R27 between Marine Drive and Blaauwberg Road.

Club members and international windsurfers had been kept out of the water because of the vlei’s closure, Ms Haslinger.

“We’ve had to stop all the junior, women’s and disabled sailing courses. Our members now have to go to either Brandvlei or Theewaterskloof which are both 100km away.

“We would like to know the opening criteria,” said Ms Haslinger. “What are the safe levels of E coli for intermediate and recreational sport? We’d also like to know the measures to rehabilitate the water. They haven’t gotten back to us with that information.”

Caroline Marx, head of the environmental portfolio at Milnerton Central Ratepayers’ Association, said the same sort of mismanagement was to blame for the sewage spills in Joe Slovo.

“The neglect of this issue has led to widespread pollution in the Rietvlei. This is a lake that is 9m deep, so to have it with such exceptionally high E coli levels, there must have been massively prolonged spills. This is not a once-off thing and it must have gone on for weeks.”

Ms Marx said that in a meeting with City officials on Thursday August 5 she had been told that a problem at the Table View West pump station had caused sewage manholes to overflow into stormwater canals, which had led to the pollution.

“The question then is why was this not picked up sooner and why wasn’t it resolved quicker?”

Caroline Marx, of the Milnerton Central Ratepayers’ Association, says the pollution problem at Rietvlei has been neglected for too long.

Adrian Tregoning, of Milnerton, windsurfs in Rietvlei. He said that while he could still use the sea, he felt the City had communicated poorly with the public about the pollution problem.

“They haven’t given us any information about where this leak comes from. It’s been over a month now. Another thing that worries me is the health of the people that have been using the water. I was using the water while the water was being polluted, and the City let it get this far. I feel like the City is not actually doing anything to solve this. They just ignore the problem,” he said.

Milnerton resident Adrian Tregoning accused the City of communicating poorly with the public about the pollution problem.

City spokesman Luthando Tyhalibongo said they were aware of the demonstration at the Milnerton Aquatic Club and they were continuing to monitor the water quality at Rietvlei.

“The City’s monitoring of poor water quality at Rietvlei is showing that the heavy rainfall and stormwater ingress into sewers in recent weeks, and resultant sewage overflows, is likely behind continued elevated levels of E coli in Rietvlei. All water to Rietvlei is channelled via the Bayside Canal, which is likely to be impacted in the case of a sewer blockage, or stormwater ingress in surrounding areas or a fault at a pump station. The canal, like all water bodies in the City, is also susceptible to polluted urban run-off,” he said.

High E coli levels have led to the closure of the Rietvlei and other waterbodies.

Regular water tests were being done and the City continued to look for possible undiscovered pollution sources. He said ongoing maintenance was under way.

New valves and an electrical control panel worth about R4.6 million had been installed at the Table View East pump station; a barrier had been built in mid-July to stop the Table View West pump station from flooding; there were ongoing efforts to unblock sewers; and Table View East pump station would have a R30 million upgrade as part of a R62 million long-term overhaul of the Table View’s sewers set for completion by 2028/2029, he said.