Rivers flowing with problems

The City of Cape Town hosted a Hout Bay River Pollution Open Day last week at the Hout Bay library, where 127 attended to share their views.

The pollution in Hout Bay rivers is becoming a smell not many can ignore, leading to many questions, especially what is polluting the Disa River.

The rivers starts off crystal clear and unpolluted as it runs from the back of Table Mountain, but as it flows through the lush upper valley, it then picks up pollution through frequent sewer surcharges that enters the stormwater system, decanting into the river.

According to Linda Schmiedeke from the Hout Bay Ratepayers’ Association, who conducted a study into the problems surrounding the stormwater system and pollution of the rivers, the stretch running parallel with Main Road, alongside Imizamo Yethu (IY), the river becomes an “E coli infested, open swerve canal terminating at the beach”.

“Grey and black water from night-buckets, washing, etc. is consistently decanted into the sides of township roads. This polluted water now runs from the upper sections of Dontse Yakhe (DY) via the newly-constructed road down into the existing Hughenden stormwater system, and out into the river,” she explained.

Ms Schmiedeke said adding to Hout Bay River’s woes, the two low-flow systems in place were never designed to deal with the quantity of polluted water it faces daily, the numerous regular pump station failures, stormwater attenuation ponds below the township filling with township sewage instead of the intended stormwater, planned grey water diversion facilities not being installed timeously, promised decanting facilities and flushing toilets so desperately needed in DY not being installed, inability to renew critical service contracts timeously, Covid-19, etc, all resulting in the current heavily polluted state.

“It has been further noted that these highly elevated bacterial counts found in the Hout Bay River contribute substantially to the current unbalanced river eco-system, that there is little to no animal life here. In 2017, the only know Cape clawless otter living here died of septicemia from the polluted water; today, sea birds have been found dead at the estuary following a weekend of sewerage pollution of the magnitude that has not been previously seen,” she said during her study.

Dirt being disposed of in stormwater drains is a major contributing factor when it comes to polluted rivers.

Earlier this year, several stormwater drains were overflowing with raw sewage, running down to the Hout Bay Gateway Circle opposite Hout Bay police station, flooding the area with sewage water running down from Imizamo Yethu, which then ran into the Disa River, into the lagoon and eventually landing up in the ocean.

Local, Karl Johannsen, said the state of the rivers were becoming “worse by the day” and highlighted that with so many being locked down, there was more waste to dispose of in areas that were already struggling.

“If you travel through the community of IY, ask yourself where is all that waste going to and how are they disposing of this waste. It has to be going into the stormwater system and polluting our rivers,” he said.

“IY is not the only problem though, it’s a part of the problem and it does need to be addressed quite urgently.”

Mr Johannsen suggested that the City of Cape Town consider other ways to get rid of grey and black water, and at the same time, offer more solutions when it comes to household domestic waste.

“It’s clear that people choose the stormwater system to dump their waste because there are not enough viable solutions within the community. If you look at the skips that are provided for waste, there are times those skips are overflowing with waste. Where do you think people will go next?” Mr Johannsen asked.

The City hosted a Hout Bay River Pollution Open Day last week at the Hout Bay library, where 127 attended to share their views and spoke to City officials regarding river and beach pollution and the measures in place and being implemented to address it.

Ward councillor Roberto Quintas said: “Several departments represented by 15 officials were present to display interactive information-and-answer questions and take inputs, comments and suggestions. This Covid-compliant open day served to provide transparent and accountable governance to interested parties and I will soon be sharing all information on display via social media platforms with the community.”

Another local, Tor Benson, shared his thoughts on the open day offered by the City on Facebook, calling it a “good one”.

“Anyone that has attended the many public meetings before will know how quickly they degenerate into pie-chucking fiascos, this was avoided,” he said in his post.

He suggested that the City rather consider introducing sewerage treatment plants or farms to deal with the issue.

“We are in a valley, there is a river at the lowest point of gravity that meanders to the ocean, anything in liquid form or being able to be transported by liquid in large enough volumes that has had the soil pass saturation point must eventually reach the river and then the ocean,” he said.

“Building retention dams, bigger pipes and attempting to educate people is never going to be sustainable, they are dead-end ideas.”

Mr Benson suggested that a sewerage farm be established alongside the sportsfield or along the river stretch as sewage from just about anywhere in the valley could reach this area.

Meanwhile, the City released their Know Your Coast 2020 report, which is now available for the public to view. The report covers the quality of coastal water at recreational nodes and monitoring points along the Atlantic and False Bay coastlines as determined by applying the National Water Quality Guidelines.

The latest report covers coastal water quality for a 12-month period from December 1 2019 to November 30 2020. It reflects the outcome of statistical analysis as set out by the National Guidelines of 2 400 bacterial sample tests taken from 99 sites along Cape Town’s 307km of coastline.

“The release of the second Know Your Coast report confirms the City’s commitment to transparency and disclosure about the quality of Cape Town’s coastal waters. It also serves as a source to inform and educate the public on the shared responsibility between all stakeholders to prevent the pollution of our inland water sources because whatever lands up in our rivers and canals drains into the sea,” said the City’s Mayco member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt.

Ms Nieuwoudt said in 2020, the Water and Sanitation Department cleared about 122 000 sewer blockages across Cape Town. Most of these, around 75%, were caused by people who are using the sewers as a dumping site for rubbish. The City spent about R350 million on the clearing of these blockages that could have been avoided.

“Illegal discharge into the stormwater system remains a huge challenge. Our stormwater system is designed to channel the run-off from rainfall events, thus, if it is not raining, nothing should be discharged. However, this is often not the case as many people abuse the stormwater system to get rid of substances and this untreated waste flows directly into our ocean,” she said.

BLOB Please refer to the report for more information, and how and where to report blocked drains, illegal dumping, and coastal sewage spills. The Know Your Coast report on coastal water quality for the 2019 calendar year is also available online. This report was published in March last year.

* Linda Schmiedeke’s full report to investigate and document why and what is causing this disaster, can be viewed here.