Upgrade ‘to improve operations’

2019-10-22 06:00
Aimee Kuhl, councillor for ward 64, talks to Kyran Wright, estuary manager at the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve. PHOTO: Racine Edwardes

Aimee Kuhl, councillor for ward 64, talks to Kyran Wright, estuary manager at the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve. PHOTO: Racine Edwardes

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The Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve’s continuous contamination problems could soon be cut down to half the rate of occurrence on completion of an upgrade to the Lowlift Pump Station.

Dating back more than three decades, the sewage pump located in Seawinds has presented various challenges for the community. Dorothy Prime, a resident who has lived near the pump for about 30 years, previously told People’s Post (“Residents fed up with smell”, 30 July): “The smell is terrible all the time, and worse when it’s hot.”

Other residents have complained about the health hazard it poses for the children at Zerilda Park Primary School, situated adjacent to the plant.

The City of Cape Town began upgrade work on the sewage plant early in August – a win for the residents of Seawinds and Lavender Hill, but also for those who live in Marina Da Gama and others who use the Zandvlei for recreational purposes. The upgrade is scheduled for completion in December next year.

According to Mayco member for water and waste, Xanthea Limberg, the R85 million upgrade will “drastically improve operations in the Retreat and surrounding areas”.

Kyran Wright, estuary manager at the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve, has recorded 19 major sewage spills in the vlei since September last year.

“Ten of those have been directly attributed to the Lowlift Pump Station. That’s more than 50% of our sewage spills coming from one pump station,” noted Aimee Kuhl, councillor for ward 64.

Three of the 19 spills resulted in the complete closures of the vlei, and another two incidents led to partial closures.

According to estuary mandate, the water is required to remain at an intermediate contact level of 1 000 colony forming units per 100ml of E.coli; meaning partial contact associated with paddling or immersion for a short time. But, Kuhl added: “We don’t recommend swimming anywhere in the vlei – ever.”

Monthly testing is conducted on all of the city’s water bodies to ensure the water levels are suitable for recreational use. But in the event of a sewage spill, Wright will initiate emergency testing. It can take up to 24 hours before results are received.

This process involves liaising with various City stakeholders, testing the water at multiple phases of the contamination, notifying affected communities and, depending on the severity of the contamination, continuing regular use of the vlei or closing the water body for recreational use.

The closure of the water body has a significant socio-economic impact on users such as the Imperial Yacht Club and fishermen. “We don’t take decisions to close the vlei lightly,” she says.

But despite 19 incidents – with the most recent one being earlier this month – the vlei is in good overall health. Fishermen in the area have reported seeing healthier populations of leer fish and sand prawns than before.

Kuhl attributes this to their swift reaction time to each incident.

“I think we have the best response and communication to sewage incidents in the entire city, at Zandvlei,” she says, adding that claims of the estuary’s poor condition are untrue.

Taking a proactive stance to curb the number of sewage spills that enter the vlei, a damming system is being planned to take shape at the Sandvlei canal from Coniston Park.

The dam will work during the low flow summer season, effectively catching sewage in the canal and preventing it from making its way down into the estuary. Once the spill is no longer able to flow, a pump will be used to clear out the waste.

This prevention system will be implemented soon, with a more robust system being conceptualised for the high-flow winter months.

“We are already planning on how to deal with future pressures. We are creating a (plant-based) system that absorbs the nutrients,” says Kuhl, adding: “The vlei is in exceptional health, given the threats that it’s facing.”

She is confident that the completion of the Seawinds sewage plant will relieve the vlei of its current problems and their proactive measures to contamination will see that much fewer incidents will occur.

“As an urban catchment, there’s no quick fix to solve these situations, but what we can do is identify weaknesses in our system.”

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