When will we ever learn?

Professor Eugene Moll, Kirstenhof

I refer to your feature on water toxicity (“Citizens must rally to tackle toxic rivers – scientist,” Bulletin, March 31).

To me this is simply another smokescreen for the total lack of ecological action and comprehension by the City of Cape Town.

On October 21, 2016, when I was still a very frustrated member of the Zandvlei Catchment Forum (ZCF), I presented a practical solution to some of the issues facing Zandvlei, using the Westlake River as a simple example.

Back in 1998, when I was the director of the Southern African Wildlife College adjacent to the Kruger Park, all our sewage was treated in a small wetland about the size of a tennis court. This was my introduction to bioremediation, which worked extremely well – no chemicals required.

What I presented to the forum (the chair was the same Abdulla Parker on the front page), was a simple plan to put the two large wetlands, which were bypassed decades before by engineers when the Westlake River was canalised, back online.

At the time, and still today it seems, the engineers who manage stormwater flow and sewage treatment in the City have no understanding of simple ecological principles. All the rivers flowing into Zandvlei and Zeekoevlei are canalised, so all the rubbish that gets tipped into these canals ends up as a toxic cocktail in these two water-bodies.

The City could set a national example if the engineers and politicians would simply get up to speed with new techniques of bioremediation. All they need to do is go to KwaZulu-Natal’s Midmar Dam’s catchment to see practical ways clever people have solved the pollution challenges.

When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?

• Mayoral committee member for water Zahid Badroodien’s response of 1 000 words, mostly covering projects the City is working on to reduce dumping and littering and improve waste water reticulation, has been forwarded to Professor Moll. Here is an edited version:

I read with great interest the letter you have sent. Bioremediation is a game changer I believe and I have been doing an immense amount of reading into this space to see how we can introduce it to the city on a greater scale than we are currently.

The City is aware of the challenges associated with rapid urbanisation of the metro as the demand for services increases with densification.

With regards to dumping of waste into City’s stormwater and sewer system, the mayor has begun a City-wide cleaning of dumped waste and awareness of the negative impacts of dumping. The mayor has also pledged resources for the improvement of inland water including the upgrade of critical waste water treatment works, sewer pump stations and cleaning and upgrading of sewer reticulation infrastructure.

With regard to other end-of-pipe treatments, the City’s catchment, stormwater and river management branch is applying for funding to pilot other types of sustainable urban drainage systems. These include the floating island and aeration and solar technology.

• According to Wikipedia, bioremediation is a process used to treat contaminated media, including water, soil and subsurface material, by altering environmental conditions to stimulate growth of micro-organisms that degrade the target pollutants. Most bioremediation is inadvertent, involving native organisms.