Sewage spills on the Big Lotus River has resulted in pollution of the Zeekoevlei.
Sewage spills on the Big Lotus River has resulted in pollution of the Zeekoevlei.

Latest Zeekoevlei sewage spills a setback, residents say

By Mthuthuzeli Ntseku Time of article published Oct 13, 2021

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Cape Town - Friends of Zeekoevlei and Rondevlei and residents living around the nature reserve have described Monday’s sewage spill on the vlei’s water body as a devastating setback.

They said the spill occurred as water quality was improving in the vlei, and signs were that the City was on track to open the water body again in the next few weeks, after Zandvlei had been reopened to the public.

Friends of Zeekoevlei and Rondevlei vice-chairperson Tom Schwerdtfeger said the spill was a direct result of the breakdown of four Archimedes Screws at the Cape Flats WasteWater Treatment Works (CFWWTW) plant on Monday.

“The Screws lift raw sewage into the plant where it is treated. If there is insufficient capacity to lift the sewage, then it backs up in the system. We experienced the same knock-on effect on July 12, when all screws were also idle and the City promised to make sure that it would not re-occur as a plan was in place. Again, yesterday morning there was a secondary spill at the entrance gate to Rondevlei Nature Reserve,” Schwerdtfeger said.

Resident and researcher Vanessa Farr said there was no political will to stop the sewage spills. She said the spills would stop when we stopped assuming we can take water for granted.

“We need a highly-skilled, competent and passionate team to care for every aspect of the City's water systems: all the streams, rivers, groundwater, vleis and the ocean are connected.

“When one part is neglected, the others suffer. A truly committed City management would focus on fixing infrastructure, rethinking water-borne sewage, redesigning, upgrading and maintaining old infrastructure and replacing what doesn't work,” she said.

Archimedes Screws at the Cape Flats WasteWater Treatment Works (CFWWTW) plant broke down on Monday.

Farr said this was a setback to the local, provincial and national sporting scene, and that there was no evidence that the City takes this problem seriously.

“It's a terrible blow. Residents live here because we love this precious body of water. Many of us work voluntarily for its conservation. It was residents who worked for over a decade to get this vlei recognised as a Ramsar site,” she said.

A Ramsar Site is a wetland site designated to be of international importance. These wetlands are protected under the strict guidelines of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Mayco Member for Water and Waste Xanthea Limberg said the source and cause of the recent pollution in the Lotus River was still to be identified and that the City was currently investigating all potential sources.

“It is unlikely the recent pollution that has been observed in the Lotus River is related to the failure of screw pumps at the Cape Flats WWTW. However, in recent months, the City raised manholes in the vicinity of Zeekoevlei as a precautionary measure.

“The sewer levels in these manholes are monitored daily and there is currently no indication that the sewage levels in the manholes are a cause for concern. If the screw pumps were the cause of the recent sewer spills this would likely have manifested itself more widely,” she said.

Limberg said the City was working to restore one screw pump to functionality and has commenced installation of a new gearbox which should be commissioned in approximately 12 days.

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