The dunes at Monwabisi beach, used by tens of thousands of Cape Flats residents, are covered in large patches of sewage.
Normally treated upstream at the Zandvliet Waste Water Treatment Works, the treated sewage flows along a stream through the dunes before being piped out to sea.
But on either side of the stream are large, thick patches of stinking untreated sewage.
During an inspection at the site on Tuesday last week (February 9), City of Cape Town Utility Committee member Bertus Van Dalen said he was unsure of the exact cause for the sludge polluting the dunes, but it was likely due to overflows from the Zandvliet treatment works.
This happened because the infrastructure was not maintained, he said.
And the problem of untreated, or semi-treated sewage spilling from Waste Water Treatment Works, was becoming a national problem.
DA deputy shadow minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Annette Lovemore, said only 32 out of approximately 970 water treatment plants around the country complied with the requirements for the safe discharge of sewage.
With a compliance level of only 3%, South Africa’s rivers and coastal waters are becoming increasingly polluted, posing a danger to human health, as well as the environment.
Lovemore said the Municipal Wastewater Treatment, Base Information for Targeted Risk-Based Regulation, 2009, showed the North West showed that not a single treatment plant in that promise complied with the regulations.
This could cause major environmental damage to water sources, considering that with an approximately 80% compliance treatment works compliance level in the Western Cape, 27 of Cape Towns rivers and water bodies have unacceptably high levels of ecoli, according to the City of Cape Town’s Inland and Coastal Water Quality report for the 12 month period ending September 2009.
16 beaches out of the 40 water samples taken from the False Bay coastline failed to meet the stringent 80th percent compliance that measures eight out of ten samples must contain more or equal 100 indicator organisms and Monwabisi was one of the beach’s to avoid.
While only six beaches out of 28 along the Atlantic coast failed the stringent 80th percent compliance test.
Out of 27 inland systems including rivers and wetlands the Soet River in the Strand area was worst affected as it once again had a zero percent compliance meaning that sample results during the 12 month period were all greater than 1000 counts (of faecal coliform – including E. coli)/100ml.
Water bodies commonly used for recreational purposes had the following intermediate contact compliance levels Rietvlei 83%, Zeekoevlei 64%, Zandvlei 64% and Milnerton Lagoon 25%.
All which are similar to those of the previous quarter.
Regardless of efforts by the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs in late 2008 to progressively improve operations through the launch of a national Green Drop certification program for all Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW).
However the much anticipated report is yet to be released by the department as it was delayed several times.
Department of Water Affairs media liaison officer Linda Page said the report would definitely be revealed soon but was unable to give a specific date as we are busy liaising with the municipalities.
We trying to get the municipalities to perform better those that were doing badly despite denying that the report was not released because of its findings, she said.
Van Dalen said rivers have also built up sludge over the years with some even up to a metre thick as the situation aggravated due to lack of clean up.
He said there is no easy solution as infrastructure must be able to cope with the demand coming through instead of spilling over.
While storm water and sewerage systems need to be upgraded regularly likewise with capacity as demand was exceeding due to urbanisation, said Van Dalen.
“Ordinary maintenance such as drains being cleaned regularly is critical to avoid sewerage spills.”
He said back yard dwellers are aggravating the situation as storm water over flows into the system because they often don’t have access toilets facilities from their landlords despite paying rent.
While even if they did access water it was very little and therefore forced to dump their night soil into the storm water drains in the morning, said Van Dalen.
Hence the polluted rivers from dirty storm water that drifted towards it while rivers didn’t need treating in the past as it was only rain that made up the pure storm water.
Therefore the City is looking into providing services for backyard dwellers as we have identified the big problem that it’s causing, he said.
Dr Jo Barnes, senior lecturer in the faculty of health science at the University of Stellenbosch, said water born diseases is expected to increase because untreated sewerage is a carrier of it.
Barnes said as the crisis on our hands is not enough as there are people suffering from malnutrition, Tuberculosis and HIV/Aids.
She said apart from the mines, informal settlements and failing municipal systems such as blocked drains and overburdened sewerage works are the major source of contributors.
“A growing concern and headache is people throwing any junk or mess into storm water systems.”
Barnes said rural areas and dorpies are even worse off because they use water for irrigation purposes which unfortunately could have ripple effects.
“They in dire consequences because they don’t have alternative water use.”
She said municipalities should be taken to task over deteriorating infrastructure as they should be allocating more money for maintenance and since it’s their role to provide sanitation to informal settlements.
Barnes said all rivers from the metro are highly polluted and even spreading to the Boland now as main agriculture is also threatened.
With possible changes in our climate of drier days we can’t afford to write off our rivers, she said.
But during last Thursday evening’s (February 11) state of the nation address President Jacob Zuma said that they would work to improve the effectiveness of local government, infrastructure development and human settlements in addition to the five priorities that they committed to namely education, health, rural development and land reform, creating decent work and fighting crime.
Zuma said “local government must work as municipalities must improve the provision of housing, water, sanitation, electricity, waste management and roads.”
He said we had valuable insight into the challenges that local government face after last year’s meeting with mayors and municipal managers.
Also cabinet approved a turnaround strategy for local government in December 2009 as this would ensure that local government has the correct management, administrative and technical skills, said Zuma.
“During this year of action, let us work together to make local government everybody’s business.”
He said we are not a water rich country yet we still loose a lot of water through leaking pipes and inadequate infrastructure hence measures will be put into place to reduce our water loss by half by 2014.