Riverbank flooding fear

The riverbank on the neighbouring property is secured with gabions.

With winter around the corner, residents in the Helderstroom block of flats are concerned that their driveway could be washed away in a storm.

The driveway runs parallel to, and above the Diep River which flows along St Catherine Road and beneath Burnham Road, Plumstead. The tarmac shows signs of subsidence and cracks.

Anton van der Westhuizen, who has lived in the block for 25 years, says the riverbank collapsed in a storm in November 2016. The complex was flooded by the rising river to about 55cm up the wall of the block.

When they approached the City of Cape Town, they were told that each property alongside a river was responsible for maintenance of their portion of riverbank to halfway across the length of the river. The neighbour on the opposite side is responsible from this halfway point.

In December 2016 the City’s environmental department told them the flood had been a once-in-a-lifetime event and would be unlikely to happen again for 50 years. Residents were also told it would cost R100 000 to maintain the riverbank and they did not have funds to fix it. So Helderstroom residents took matters into their own hands.

May Holland was one of them. She has lived at Helderstroom since 2004 and says she was concerned that the driveway was sagging because of the lack of stability of the riverbank.

“It would be beneficial if the council would assist us financially with the securing of the riverbank but they claim that this is our property and so therefore we need to care for it.

“We have spent several years trying to build the riverbank up by laying stones and branches and this has helped to secure the bank, but it’s only a precautionary measure,” she says.

Ms Holland says in March they were in the process of deciding on a more permanent way to strengthen the riverbank when contractors cleaning the river started destroying what they had done.

“We asked the supervisor not remove any of the stones and branches but when we returned from work that afternoon the riverbank had been destroyed,” says Ms Holland.

Theresa Essmann has lived in the block for 13 years and watched the contractors removing their hard work. “It’s the only support for our driveway. If we have a big storm it could give way,” she says.

When the Bulletin inspected the riverbank on Tuesday April 3, the smell of raw sewage hung thick in the air above flowing, olive-coloured water.

Mr Van Der Westhuizen says pollution is so bad that they cannot open their windows or doors because of the smell and flies.

He says City officials have examined the area in the past looking for the source of the pollution and told the Bulletin there is a sewerage plant in the neighbouring road.

The Bulletin went to explore the plant which is next to a park in Saint Joan’s Road. A sign next to the bridge where children watched a frog in the river, warns: Danger: Polluted Water.

Ms Holland says the river is cleaned once or twice a year. “The sewage in the river has always been a problem, however, with the dry summer months it has worsened. In the past we had an abundance of different species of birdlife. We even had an otter visit the riverbank a few years ago. The sewage and lack of clean water has caused the general wildlife to seek other habitats,” she says.

Since the Bulletin contacted ward councillor Carol Bew about the matter, contractors have moved on site and are replacing the rocks on the riverbank.

In response to our email inquiry, Ms Bew said: “This (river) has already been cleaned and if not yet then it will be done in the next few days. The rivers and canals are all being cleaned from the greenbelt right down to Roscommon Road.”

We sent further questions to the City’s media office on Saturday March 31, asking about legality of maintenance, mitigation measures in the event of a storm, and what the City’s next step was in this situation. They said they would respond to the query “in due course”.

* The source of the Diep River lies somewhere in Bel Ombre, Constantia and eventually flows into Little Princess Vlei, Retreat.

During the 1800s Louis Thibault was ordered to investigate the condition of the road leading from Westervoordt Bridge, Rondebosch to Muizenberg along the Main Road. After his report was submitted in 1807 work on the road was approved which led to the construction of the Diep River Culvert. The Diep River is part of the City’s Source to Sea pilot project to manage all other rivers in greater Cape Town metropole and is estimated to cost R30 million.