Heathfield residents living near the Diep River are battling serial sewage spills, and the latest, on Sunday June 3, has left a lingering stench and bitter frustration.
It was day six after the spill and Rene Marcus, who lives in a complex on the banks of the river, could smell the nauseating stink, despite a cold and blocked nose.
Her neighbour, Gill Ewens, has lived in the complex near the river for 13 years and said the sewage spills were sporadic but had been happening since she moved there.
Ms Marcus said the smell permeated their homes and a neighbour had stopped his grandson from visiting because the child’s chest closed up.
Ms Marcus is not a trustee at her complex, but she has been tackling the canal issue since 2011.
She has collected dozens of emails and reference numbers about sewage spills.
She said she was well-known to her previous ward councillor, Penny East, until the ward boundary switch. She now deals with Carol Bew.
“They have been amazing, but what more can they do?” she said.
The previous sewage spill, she said, was on Monday May 14, and it had lasted three days. And there had been another for four days over the Easter public holidays.
Ms Marcus said she had called a City official on the Sunday about the latest spill, and a team had come out soon afterwards to find the source of the spill and fix it. They had flushed the river with non-potable water and sprayed the area with a pine-scented deodoriser powder.
“They’ve been fantastic, but it’s not a long-term solution,” she said.
“The river in properties on both sides of the complex runs underground. Possibly it’s so bad because the area has built-up extensively with businesses and residential homes, and now the pipes cannot cope. What is needed is for the whole system to be redone, which will cost a fortune, or to enclose our river as with our neighbours,” said Ms Marcus.
“I love it when it rains – it’s beautiful as the water gushes through, but when the stormwater breaks, we can’t live with the sewage,” she said.
This is not the first time residents have complained about sewage spills in the canal (“Riverbank flooding fear,” Bulletin April 5 and “Stinky river causes health hazard,” Bulletin April 12).
Raymond Dreyers says the stench in Plumstead is getting worse every day and is a threat to wildlife and public health.
Anton van der Westhuizen says he is embarrassed to invite anyone to visit because of the foul smell. He fears that winter storms and the build-up of branches and stones in the river could damage the complex riverbank.
Alison Volpi, head of front office at Generation Schools Blue Moon, in Heathfield, said they had had issues with sewerage running in the canal for the past few years.
“It has been a huge concern for us, given the position of our school. Our children walk across the canal to get to their play area, and the front entrance and office of our school are situated about 5m from the canal,” said Ms Volpi.
The school has reported the smell, which it says is often unbearable and a huge health hazard, to council many times. It says it is usually told the problem lies further up the pipe in Bergvliet.
Ms Bew said she was aware that Ms East, the previous Ward 73 councillor, had tried unsuccessfully to fix the canal.
“My understanding is this is a recurring problem of many years. The matter of enclosing the canal was discussed some time ago, and, to the best of my knowledge, thought to be the responsibility of the tenants (governing body). I have not seen the lease agreements so cannot comment specifically,” said Ms Bew.
The City did not respond to questions by the time this edition went to print.