City accused of vlei failure

Gregory Higgins took this picture on Thursday February 4 in the Marina da Gama waterways.

Marina da Gama residents have accused the City of Cape Town of ducking responsibility for ongoing pollution problems – including sewage spills and illegal dumping – in the Zandvlei estuary.

The common refrain from the City on the issue is “I am not responsible,” says Gerrard Wigram, the treasurer of the Zandvlei Trust, in a letter to the False Bay Echo.

“We don’t need a monitoring plan over the next six months to know that we have an ecological disaster on our hands. What we need is action,“ he writes.

“Can Marian Nieuwoudt (mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment) tell us who is responsible for the sewage which is regularly spewed into the vlei; who is responsible for stopping the tons of litter that comes down the canals; and how do we get whoever they are to even talk to us, let alone actually to do something?”

Marina da Gama resident and eco-volunteer Mike Ryder accuses Ms Nieuwoudt of denying any responsibility for the litter, sewage spills, choking water weed, flood-threatening siltation and other problems dogging the vlei while failing to say who is.

“In a failed attempt to appear informative, to state all the things that are already known, and in addition mostly the blatantly obvious, Ms Nieuwoudt advises that there will be yet another report compiled, plus that her department is undertaking a number of processes in the next six months to better understand the ecology.”

No mention was made of what those processes might entail, he said.

“Would she have us believe that these new reports and processes will save the day?“ he asked.

What was wrong, he asked, with the 65 page “Zandvlei Catchment Management Plan of 2010” or the 116 page (with copious expert references) “ZEMP Zandvlei Estuarine Management Plan 2018” or the “Sand River Management Plan 2013” or any of the very many other papers, dissertations and reports that have been written and published over the years, in the name of managing estuaries properly, and specifically Zandvlei properly?

“This is just more time wasting and obfuscation at ratepayers expense,” he said.

Gregory Higgins, of Marina da Gama, took this picture in January of rubbish dumped into a canal upstream of the marina’s waterways. This canal runs alongside Prince George Drive and feeds directly into the waterways in Marina da Gama.

No more reports or studies, he said, were needed. More than enough information was already published, and highly qualified staff worked at the reserve, and many informed and willing personnel lived in the area.

“What is needed is for the actions and protocols recommended in these various and numerous reports and dissertations to be prioritised, converted into actions and followed methodically and assiduously along with some new independent and innovative thinking. Then, and only then, will Zandvlei be the pristine waterway we all desire and demand,” he said.

A photograph taken in January by Marina da Gama resident Gregory Higgins shows garbage dumped in canals just upstream along Prince George Drive.

“The sewage continues to run into Zandvlei and the canal system,“ he said. ”All the small gains that we have made over the months have been undone. I took a walk along Wildwood Island on Thursday February 4 and turned back due to the smell of raw sewage. What else has to die before we do something?”

Ms Nieuwoud said the issue of water quality in the vlei was a complex one with many sources of pollution and fluctuating conditions.

“Despite the catchment related issues, the vlei is remarkably resilient,” she said.

City observations of bird and fish life in recent weeks had not detected anything out of the ordinary, she said.

“The water quality is very good at the moment and a significant improvement on the previous season where we were experiencing algal blooms and discoloured water due to phytoplankton growth.“

There was a common misunderstanding about what to expect during the summer months in an inland water body, situated at the bottom of an urban catchment, and the growth of macrophytes and algae was completely natural, she said.

“They may be deemed unpleasant from an aesthetics view, but, as a nature reserve, they provide habitat and forage for many animals.“

The water was very clear, she said, meaning there were no phytoplankton algal blooms that could choke the vlei of oxygen and cause fish die-offs.

“Reserve staff are also monitoring oxygen levels which are very good especially given the wind action, which turns over the water. The last E coli sampling results were based on the monthly sampling undertaken on January 13 and all results (throughout the Zandvlei waterbody itself) were well below the national E coli thresholds for intermediate contact recreational use,” she said.

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for water and waste, said City staff and Zandvlei reserve management were planning extra measures to keep litter and sewage out of the Sand River catchment. The Muizenberg beachfront had been cleaned along with sewers in Axminster and Albertyn roads. The City had also run public education campaigns about the effects of illegal dumping and planned to run more.