Waking the frozen mammoth

Blue letter

David Bristow, Marina da Gama

In replying to Marina da Gama resident Trevor Dix, the City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment misses (or obfuscates) the point pretty much entirely as to the problems of Zandvlei – Cape Town’s largest natural water body.

Instead of tackling the issue of human sewage, for example, she goes on a ramble about bird faeces in the wetland. The truth is the council does not care much to tackle the real problems.

In a letter to interested parties, Zandvlei Trust committee member Peter Kruger had this to say: “It does appear that the City’s officials are not really concerned at finding a lasting solution to [this problem].

“At the one major meeting the ZVT convened with the City on 31 January 2019 the senior members of the stormwater section of the City did not even bother to send an apology for their non attendance. The councillor for that area, Ward 68, Councillor Marita Petersen did not have the decency to acknowledge the invitation to the meeting.”

Numerous problems effect the vlei, including concrete canalisation of the feeder streams, an ageing and breaking sewerage system habitually spewing into the wetlands, siltation of the lower estuary, and an absolutely shameful amount of litter coming down, mainly, the Sand River into the lagoon.

There are solutions, we know what they are and how to implement them, but moving the responsible members in the council, including elected ones, seems like trying to waken a frozen mammoth. Discussing flamingos and natural waste cycles in Zandvlei is disingenuous.

There are numerous concerned individuals and organisations doing what they can to stick fingers in dykes, but without the co-ordinated efforts of our city council and councillors, that dyke wall is cracking. Bad things happen when good people do nothing.

• David Bristow is a naturalist and environmental scientist.

The City’s mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt responds:

The mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment is not responsible for “canalisation of the feeder streams, an ageing and breaking sewerage system habitually spewing into the wetlands, siltation of the lower estuary, and an absolutely shameful amount of litter coming down, mainly, the Sand River into the lagoon” and cannot respond to these matters as it is a water and waste responsibility.

The effects of problems caused upstream, from the catchment and downstream, where the estuary mouth has been canalised, are hardest felt in the estuary and nature reserve.

The inflow of wastewater and pollutants into the Zandvlei lagoon remain an ongoing concern and risk to the estuary. It is also important to note that the population densities in the surrounding catchments have increased dramatically in the last 10 years, as has the growth of informal settlements in the Capricorn Park area. These are contributing factors to increased pressure on the wastewater system and pollutants in the stormwater system. As a result, we have experienced increases on sewage discharges when there is a failure/overflow.

A key response from the environmental department is a process to formalise monitoring of the status of the ecology in Zandvlei. This will help us assess and determine the state of ecological health, as well as monitor and track changes over time and record pollution events.

In June last year, the City appointed Anchor Environmental Services to prepare an ecology monitoring plan for Zandvlei, and we are also in the process of undertaking a number of processes within the next six months to better understand the ecology of the vlei and to adjust our management to ensure the sustainability of this water body.

Once the work has been completed, we will compile a report detailing the state of ecology in the vlei. This work will be done annually. And point of correction: Zeekoevlei, not Zandvlei, is Cape Town’s largest water body.

*Councillor Marita Petersen did not respond to the Echo’s request for comment.