Cleaning up sewage spills costs a pretty penny

Fish Hoek beach near the lighthouse where sewage spilled on Sunday. Picture: Evelyn Lyle

Cleaning up sewage spills costs the City of Cape Town R250 million a year.

The City’s Water and Sanitation Department, led by Xanthea Limberg, cites load-shedding, rapid population growth and abuse of the sewage system as the cause behind the City’s 300 a day sewage spills.

The frequency of spills is being investigated by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP)

Across 21 rivers within the city, 40% of all samples reveal the level of E.coli exceeded the national guidelines for non-contact recreational use such as canoeing. Twenty percent of the samples that failed were 100 times or more over the limit.

The City’s Water and Sanitation Department has been given 21 days to provide the (DEADP) with its short-term, medium-term, and long-term plans to put an end to the sewage contamination of water bodies.

Director of Water and Sanitation in the City, Michael Webster, said the dire state of Cape Town’s rivers was due to overloaded treatment plants, sub-optimal operation at treatment plants, power outages at sewage pump stations, and mechanical failures due to an overload of solids.

While DEADP MEC Anton Bredell called the results disturbing, he did say the 2017 directive ordering the City to clean up unsanitary conditions in Masiphumelele, was being upheld and the City was implementing its plan effectively there.

The worst river samples were collected from Diep River (flowing into Milnerton Lagoon); Disa River in Hout Bay, Salt River (also known as the Black River) flowing out at Paarden Eiland; Big Lotus River, Kuils River; and Soet River.

Ms Limberg said at a water quality press conference that the 2018/19 year (July to June) saw 87 000 informal structures erected across the city, many in floodplains or stormwater retention areas. In comparison, there were 20 000 informal structures erected the previous financial year.

She said in July last year, when announcing the Zandvliet Wastewater Treatment Works, that rapid population growth, and changing wastewater characteristics over the years, have placed a huge strain on existing wastewater treatment pro-
cesses.

“As such the City considers upgrades of several wastewater treatment plants a priority, and has over R9 billion worth of upgrades to Waste Water Treatment Works that are either under way, or at some stage of the procurement process,” she said then.

The new plant is anticipated to be commissioned by December 2023. She said the project had been beset by various delays since 2010, including five (unsuccessful) tender appeals, a High Court appeal, and a land claim.

In August last year the City announced the R85 million pump station in Retreat was being built.

However, questions sent to the City by the False Bay Echo about lack of signage about the recent spill on Fish Hoek beach, requests for information on water quality tests and the request for reasons why the water and sanitation department had radically underspent its capital expenditure budget over the past two financial years, were not responded to, despite being sent on Tuesday February 11 and Friday February 14, giving the City in excess of two weeks to respond.