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Years to fix lagoon

It will take up to five years for the City of Cape Town to fix the polluted Milnerton lagoon, which is currently being upgraded at a cost of R1.75 billion.

Although strides have been made to deal with the pollution, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) has vowed to hold the City accountable.

This after residents’ associations reached out to OUTA for help in finding a solution to the problem.

OUTA wrote to the City to request a meeting to find workable solutions to fix the sewage crisis within the Diep River and Milnerton lagoon.

According to Andrea Korff, legal project manager at OUTA, the City is responsible for the sewage pollution and needs to remedy it.

“We tasked independent consultants to take water samples as part of our ongoing investigation. According to our sample reports dated 23 January and 3 February, water pollution sources point to the Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW) and an identified structure believed to be a sewage lift station. These results identify the City as one of the main culprits of sewage contamination in the Milnerton lagoon catchment,” Korff said.

According to a statement issued by OUTA, the results pointed out that the root cause of the pollution is the lack of adequate sanitation infrastructure in Joe Slovo (and other surrounding informal settlements) and the collapse of the Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works.

“The Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works sample was a diluted sample taken just downstream from the discharge point and the E.coli levels in the results are far above the legal requirements. This puts the City in a position of non-compliance. Hazardous waste such as sewage is dangerous and if not handled correctly can pose severe risks to human health and the environment which is deemed a criminal offence,” added Korff.

However, according to Mayco member for water and waste services, Xanthea Limberg, time frames are not unusual for a project of this type. 

Limberg explained, “The Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works is currently being upgraded at a cost of R1.75 billion. Although the full upgrade will take until 2025, there are various interventions on site being prioritised in the short term to improve final effluent quality as quickly as possible.” 

This includes installation of an additional mobile belt press (for dewatering) which is expected to come online in about four months. Limberg said that sludge concentrations are currently in the process of being lowered with the two existing operational belt presses, but this will speed up once the third press is operational. 

The upgrade will take place in three contracts as follows:

  •  Demolition of R16 million (completed in January);
  • Civil works of R710 million (completion set for December 2024);
  • Mechanical and electrical works of R970 million (completion set for December 2024).
  • Limberg added that in addition to the upgrade at Potsdam, the following four stormwater quality improvement projects are receiving priority: 

  • 1. Doornbach stormwater diversion and treatment

  • 2. Reinstating of the Joe Slovo retention pond

  • 3. Erica Road outfall treatment

  • 4. Theo Marais canal diversion and treatment

According to the City, load shedding is one of the reasons which contributed to the pollution. 

“Recent load shedding periods would have also had an influence on recent reported deterioration of water quality in the area, as lack of electricity affects operation of pump stations, which leads to further overflows,” Limberg said.

The City has erected warning signs informing the public that the water is polluted as one of their safety measures. However, OUTA and other stakeholders are concerned that there is no interim plan to deal with polluted water flowing into the Diep River for the next three to five years.

Korff said, “To date no concrete solutions have been tabled by the City and it seems (as is apparent from the water test results above) that the problem has now become an environmental and health issue, which is not receiving the urgent attention it deserves.”

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