Most of Cape Town’s 300-odd daily sewage spills are caused by people putting something other than a number 1 or a number 2 down their toilet.
That’s according to Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for water and waste.
She was responding to questions from the Echo about a series of spills in the far south in recent months.
There have been three spills in Glencairn since December last year, and Zandvlei estuary has had spills reported on January 17, 25 and 26; March 19; April 25; May 10 and 14.
Abuse of the sewer system, rather than defects or lack of capacity, were to blame for the spills, Ms Limberg said.
It is illegal to put anything into a municipal sewer that can block it.
“Unfortunately, as long as residents continue to abuse the system, blockages and overflows will continue to occur,” she said.
According to Ms Limberg, the sewers are designed to handle only faeces, urine, toilet paper and soapy water, but rags, nappies, tampons and sanitary pads, wet wipes, condoms, general litter, building materials, and cooking fat and oil are going into them.
The cooking oil and fats harden and build up on the inside of the sewer pipes, where they act like glue, attracting rags, hair, paper and other debris.
The hardness of the blockages could make them very difficult to clean out, Ms Limberg said.
The sewer system in the far south was “certainly not old and crumbling”, she said.
Some of the lines had been built “many years ago”, but camera inspections had shown them to be in “full working condition”.
Defective pipes were added to the City’s pipe replacement programme, funded from the capital budget, she said.
And new developments did not get the nod from the City, she said, unless the sewers could handle them.
“We are not aware of any capacity issues in the system, in the areas of Glencairn or the areas surrounding the Zandvlei nature reserve estuary. Maintenance is regularly carried out.”
More public awareness was needed, she said, about the causes of sewer blockages and spills and their environmental damage
Two dogs that swam in the Zandvlei nature reserve water last month became critically ill (“Dogs ill after Zandvlei water exposure, Falso Bay Echo, May 23) and a Muizenberg man, Shaun Venter, believes it is contact with the vlei water that landed him in hospital with staph infections.
Mr Venter said he had twisted his ankle and his foot had slipped into the water on Friday May 3. When he got home he had noticed a scratch on his heel but had thought nothing of it, until he had woken in searing pain the next day.
Mr Venter said he had been in hospital fighting to save his foot since, and he would be consulting with lawyers about the issue of water safety.
The City of Cape Town temporarily closed the Zandvlei nature reserve water area from Wednesday May 15 citing water quality concerns after reported sewage spills.
The vlei mouth was opened during this time and on Friday May 31, Kyran Wright, the reserve manager, said testing had shown the water was again safe for recreational use.