Prison sewage leaks into estuary and river

The blue line shows the course of the Westlake River going past the American Embassy and Steenberg Village, through Westlake Village and Pollsmoor before crossing beneath the M3 and continuing through Kirstenhof before entering Zandvlei and False Bay.

The province’s environmental inspectors, or “Green Scorpions”, have given notice to the City of Cape Town and Pollsmoor prison to clean up their act, or be fined.

The unit, which is part of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP), issued the order, in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, after its inspectors followed up on reports of sewage and other pollutants in the Westlake River across from Pollsmoor prison.

The Constantia valley is part of the catchment feeding water into Zandvlei and False Bay.

The City and the prison must now give detailed plans showing how they will fix the problem.

The Green Scorpions say the investigation is ongoing to determine whether other sources of pollution are involved.

Kirstenhof residents had complained about a foul odour and discolouration to the Westlake River.

Investigations by the Green Scorpions and the City’s environmental department pointed to blocked sewer pipes, particularly after heavy rains, being the cause.

According to the Green Scorpions, sewage from the prison flows through a maceration plant at Pollsmoor and from there into the municipal sewer system.

However, site inspections found breaks along the City’s sewer line that leaked faeces into one of two dams in the agricultural area in the grounds of Pollsmoor prison.

The Green Scorpions say pollution also comes from the low-cost housing area of Westlake.

Kirstenhof and Environs Association chairperson Carolynne Franklin said the pollution was a recurring problem.

“Residents are unhappy with the potential threats to their health. These water courses wind though Kirstenhof, Norfolk Park and Orchard Village, ultimately into False Bay. They are enjoyed by families with children, as well as dogs and wildlife,” she said.

“The failure of authorities to successfully address the issue of E coli and chemicals in the water is not acceptable. Water is supposedly tested on a regular basis but no results are shared so that KERA can warn residents to stay away from the river and ponds,” Ms Franklin said.

Mayoral committee member for water and waste Xanthea Limberg said they had received several complaints from the Kirstenhof area since August.

They had asked the complainants to contact the City as soon as a bad odour was experienced to increase the chances of tracing the source.

To date no calls had been received, she said.

Gary Rowe, one of the complainants, contacted the Bulletin during Friday’s rainfall.

He lives about 110m from the river. The fast-flowing water was foaming, and he described the smell as the same as when driving past the sewerage works at Macassar.

“The smell was so bad, permeating our homes, that we could not even enjoy a meal and were woken during the night,” said Mr Rowe on Monday.

Last month, Kevin Winter, of the Future Water Institute, called for the vlei to be closed for all recreational activities because of the pollution.

Dr Winter revealed that private testing of several water samples found E coli levels at 2419 colony forming units (cfu).

According to the government’s water-quality guidelines for recreational use a 500 cfu is “unacceptable” and greatly increases the chances for illness.

Asked if water samples have been taken in the Kirstenhof catchment area, Ms Limberg said routine monthly sampling indicated periods of elevated E coli levels, likely linked to sewage overflows in the general catchment. That was fairly typical of urban waterways.

The Bulletin has asked repeatedly for results of these tests, but Ms Limberg has not yet provided them.

Department of Water and Sanitation spokesman Sputnik Ratau said they had done water tests at sampling points in the catchment areas and the results showed the water quality in the Westlake River was not up to standard.

Mr Ratua said they had noticed some overflows from manholes outside the prison area and instructed

the City to resolve the problems. At follow-up site visits those manholes were functioning normally.

In the Coastal Water Quality Report released by the City on March 20, Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, Monwabisi and Beta Beach are listed among 31 polluted sites along Cape Town’s 307km of coastline. Almost half (45%) of the 49 testing sites in False Bay failed the minimum water quality guidelines in 2019.

The City’s scientific services test water samples for the presence of intestinal enterococci and E coli bacteria. These organisms, particularly enterococci, which survive longer in salt water, indicate the presence of other pathogens.

Exposure to high levels of these bacteria and other pathogens causes gastrointestinal illness and upper-respiratory infections.

Ms Limberg said camera inspections of the sewer and stormwater networks upstream of the Pollsmoor dam were to be done last week. And Steenberg Village shopping centre would also be inspected, she said.

Lewies Davids, spokesman at Pollsmoor prison said they had advertised a tender for maintenance of the dam.

“It will cost about R600 000. We only had two companies respond. We require three so we’ll have to re-advertise,” he said.

Ward Councillor Penny East did not respond to questions sent repeatedly since Thursday October 29.