Sewerage in Storm Water Systems in Hout Bay

Source a: Dontse Yakhe (DY)/Hughenden

  1. Grey and Black Water from night-buckets, washing etc. is consistently decanted into the sides of township roads. This polluted water now runs from the upper sections of DY via the newly constructed road down into the existing Hughenden stormwater system, and out into the river.
  • During a site-meeting in July 2020, rate payers were informed by the city that a grey-water bypass system had been installed, with the purpose of diverting this polluted water into the sewer-line. It has been subsequently discovered that there is, in fact, no such system in Hughenden. Thus, a year on, polluted water constantly flows through the stormwater system, out into the river at number 20 Riverside Terrace and/or down Hughenden Rd (should the pipe be blocked).
  • The UNESCO world heritage site at the top of Hughenden, erf 2286, is an open latrine, filled with human excrement and rubbish. When the rains come this effluent is washed down slope and into the existing storm water system ending up in the river. Despite promises of a clean up back in July 2020, nothing has been done up here and the pollution continues.

Source b: Old detention pond

  • The Old Stormwater Detention Pond near the cemetery, has been a lake of effluent for over a year following a failure to renew the cleaning/maintenance tender, and was further exacerbated by COVID induced work restrictions.  
  • “Water” from here enters a low flow silt-chamber situated alongside Main Road. This chamber requires regular maintenance to prevent the overflow into the stormwater pipeline.
  • “Water” flowing from the Old Detention Pond enters into a 3-chamber structure designed to collect silt as it passes through each of the chambers. The final chamber is connected to the sewer-line, and above these pipes lie a connection directly into to the stormwater system (in case of overflow). This system is designed to cope purely with low flow and was installed over 7 years ago. Should these chambers not be ridded of the accumulation of silt and litter, the chambers will block, and fluid will fill the detention pond until its banks break, subsequently causing this “water” to overflow down onto the road and into the river at Benlo Farm.
  • The two low flow systems in Hout Bay utilize the nearby stormwater drains as overflows, resulting in frequent, and at times constant, pollution of the Hout Bay river. Regular maintenance and clearing of these chambers are vital. Furthermore, it is also of utmost importance that the stormwater pipework is not used as an overflow for such heavily polluted water, as it is currently.
  • The Old Detention Pond was recently emptied by pumping the polluted water directly into the sewer system. During this process, the sewer pipe blocked causing the spillage of sewerage onto the grounds of the International School. Sadly, sewer pipe blockages and surcharges occur regularly.
  • The rubbish and contaminated soil accumulated at the base of the Detention Pond has now been removed and the alien vegetation has been cleared. Subsequently, this contaminated waste is now stockpiled to the side of the pond awaiting safe disposal.
  • Following the clearing of the pond, the extent of the polluted water emanating from IY has become very obvious, and thus, any additional rainfall will render the low-flow catchment system useless. Consequently, polluted water will flow uninterrupted through the stormwater system into the river just below Benlo Farm.
  •  Using any stormwater infrastructure to dispose of polluted water into rivers must be not be allowed to continue. Hout Bay urgently needs new method of dealing with black/grey water (from the township) to be implemented.

Source c: detention pond no 2

  • New Stormwater Detention Pond No. 2, lies just above Main Road opposite Glenellen farm. Polluted water has been disgorging from here constantly onto Main road for the past eighteen months if not longer.
  • The stormwater drain servicing the lower section of IY is visible in the picture above. This is constantly flowing into the pond and ultimately decanting out onto the road. The water flowing out of the drain is visibly polluted and has a very pungent odor to it. These ponds were designed to slow the flow of stormwater onto the road and were not designed to handle sewerage.
  • This foul water flows down a chute onto the side of Main Road, to the circle by the police station entering the stormwater system ending up at the Victoria Bridge low flow diversion chamber and pump station. The last documented sample taken on the 7th of September 2020 taken at the Gateway circle reported that the E. coli count here was 400,000 per 100ml. This is totally unacceptable!
  • The flow of “water” from Detention Pond No. 2 is significant and the existing infrastructure at Victoria Bridge, being a Low Flow system, is evidently unable to cope with this quantity of black/grey water, resulting in further pollution entering the Hout Bay River.
  • The pond was emptied on Thursday and Friday 15th and 16th April by pump to the sewer line:
  • Aside from the heavily polluted and e-coli infested water entering the Victoria Bridge low flow system, so does plastic and other waste as can clearly be seen in the images below. Solid waste intervention is urgently needed to prevent blockages causing further pollution of the Hout Bay River.

Source D: 21 Riverside Terrace

  • Numerous times a year the sewer line blocks at 21 and 21a Riverside Terrace. Late March we had 2 sewer surcharges on both properties within a space of 10 days. Due to the frequency of the flooding here the Municipality installed a sump around the problem manhole and a pipe from here out to the river. This was done 8-10 years ago in an effort to mitigate the flooding of 21a. Now when this drain surcharges, raw sewerage flows freely into the river and onto our property.
  • We suffer frequent sewerage spills on our 2 properties here, 21a floods first and then a few days later we have a sewer surcharge at 21 where the sewerage floods the entire back of the house, right up against the back door.  This spill is never cleared up but left to seep into the ground and once dry, pine scented powder is sprinkled over to mitigate the stench.
  • The City’s sewer CCTV crew have recently been on site twice to investigate the source of the problem. It seems there are 2 areas of concern: one being a length of pipeline that is sagging and the other being a blockage caused by foreign objects – kindly take note of the spoons!     
  • Maintenance of infrastructure is vital and from all the issues suffered on these 2 properties and it is very evident that the pipeline from Riverside Terrace down to Victoria Bridge has not been regularly maintained, resulting in frequent and inconvenient problems not to mention severe pollution of the surrounding properties and the river.
  • The sewer pipe runs parallel with the river from Riverside to Victoria Bridge; there are inspection manholes at regular intervals, and it is evident that there have been sewerage spills along this section, indicating blocked pipes. This can be clearly seen in the picture below taken of the riverbank at Helsby Farm.            

Source e: Imizamu Yethu (IY)

  • It is well documented that significant environmental health problems within IY are directly linked to poor sanitation and solid waste management. Lack of toilet facilities, night soil decanting points etc. means that night buckets, washing water etc. is decanted directly into the streets causing black/grey water entering the storm water channels and out in the river.
  • Frequent surcharging sewer drains within the township itself results in hard surfaces and roads bringing effluent, and heavily polluted water into the storm water system and out into the Hout Bay River.
  • Looking at the municipal sewer reticulation plan of IY it would appear that there are extensive sewer pipelines installed throughout IY itself, but judging by the frequent sewerage spills occurring here, there are obviously serious issues that need addressing such as illegal connections, surcharging sewers, lack of maintenance/service delivery, abuse of the system, vandalism, disposal of waste not designed to go into a sewer etc. It is abundantly clear that night waste disposal points as well as more serviced ablution facilities are urgently needed as shown by the grey and black water flowing freely from DY down the road kerbs before entering the storm water system in Hughenden and IY itself.
  • The recently formed IY Ukohila Community Clean Up initiative’s Facebook posts show the extent of the littering as well as the polluted water that would be entering the stormwater system had this been regularly maintained and not blocked solid as these images show: (sincere apologies for not being able to acknowledge the photographer(s) of these images, credit to the IY Ukohila Community Clean Up and the fantastic work that they do):
  • There are frequent sewer surcharges within the township itself resulting in many homes being flooded with foul water and silt which enters the storm water system and discharges out into the river.

Source F: Victoria Bridge

  • Hout Bay’s second low flow system is at Victoria Bridge, consisting of a silt chamber and a sump where a liquid level-controlled pump sits. Should the pump fail, or electricity be unavailable, the pump station’s telemetry system should send a signal to notify the city of pump failure; sadly, this system is faulty and unreliable and due to the possibility of theft the telemetry equipment was removed until a metal cage can be installed to prevent this threat.
  • The pump and the sump chambers have not been regularly maintained for over twelve months due to failure to renew the cleaning/maintenance tender and problems here are further exacerbated by COVID induced work restrictions.  Consequently, the polluted water flowing in the open stormwater channel parallel with Victoria Road is often not pumped into the sewer line as intended but flowing directly into the river through the existing stormwater overflow connection instead.
  • As can be clearly seen in the above photographs, litter is another a major contributor to frequent blockages of the silt chambers, resulting in polluted water flowing straight into the river.
  • It is evident that the existing infrastructure at Victoria Bridge, in its current state, is unable to cope with the quantity of polluted water now flowing unabated to it. The installed pump now has to operate continuously, the buildup of silt in the chambers happens faster than anticipated when the system was designed and without maintenance this low flow system is useless causing foul water to flow directly into the river.   
  • The pump at the pump station has been in disrepair for several months, adding to the polluted water outpour into the river. A new pump has recently been installed, but the telemetry is still faulty.
  • An extension to the silt removal chambers at this facility was allegedly promised and budgeted for by the City’s River Catchment and Stormwater Directorate many years ago (ref HBRCF) but has never been implemented adding to the woes of the maintenance and integrity of this pump station.

Source G: Princess Road pump station

  • There is a pump station located at Princess Rd, pumping sewerage emanating from 70% of Hout Bay serving homes both sides of the river up to Constantia neck side.  It is my understanding that there is a guard here 24/7 to stop potential vandalism/theft as well as a telemetry system installed to send a warning to the CoCT’s service team should the pump here fail.
  • Mechanical breakdown of this pump results in direct overflow into the river just below the pump station, back up in the sewer pipeline upstream and sewerage surcharges into the river at erf 666 and the Riding Centre. Such mechanical failures should only be short lived if the installed telemetry system is functioning and assuming the signal received at the City’s depot is acted on and a repair team is sent to sort the problem. Regular maintenance at such a critical system point is vital.
  • I am unsure if the installed Telemetry system at this pump station is working as sewerage has been pouring into the river from here due to a mechanical breakdown of the pump with problems starting on Wednesday the 14th of April with a full mechanical breakdown of the system reported from Friday the 16th to late afternoon on Sunday the 18th when the pump was repaired. The pump breakdown here has been catastrophic and resulting in the worst case of pollution into the river ever seen. Dead seabirds have now been reported at the river estuary!

Source H: Main Steam Centre pump station

  • There are occasional issues at this point mostly caused by a blockage of the fat traps installed here, or a mechanical breakdown. If a problem occurs here the resulting outflow is into the river.

Hout Bay Pollution Source Locations:

The Hout Bay River water starts crystal clear and unpolluted as it runs from the back of Table Mountain. As it flows through the lush upper valley it picks up pollution through frequent sewer surcharges entering the storm water system decanting into the river. In the stretchrunning parallel with Main Road, alongside Imizamu Yethu, it becomes an e-coli infested “open sewer canal” terminating at the beach.

Adding to Hout Bay River’s woes, the 2 low flow systems in place were never designed to deal with the quantity of polluted water it faces daily, the numerous regular pump station failures , storm water attenuation ponds below the township filling with township sewerage instead  of the intended storm water, planned grey water diversion facilities not being installed timeously, promised decanting facilities and flushing toilets so desperately needed in DY not being installed, inability to renew critical service contracts timeously, Covid, etc. all resulting in her current heavily polluted state.  

At one time the Hout Bay River received the dubious accolade of being named the most polluted water course in the south peninsula with a recorded 900,000,000 (nine hundred million) E. coli bacteria per 100ml of water. (This level of E. coli is far higher than that found in normal sewerage!)

It has been further noted that these highly elevated bacterial counts found in the Hout Bay River contribute substantially to the current unbalanced river eco system, that there is little to no animal life here. In 2017 the only know Cape clawless otter living here died of septicemia from the polluted water, today, sea birds have been found dead at the estuary following a weekend of sewerage pollution of the magnitude that has not been previously seen.

Over the past decade, the City of Cape Town have had to warn beachgoers not to swim in the lagoon estuary or the sea due to the high levels of E. coli present in the water here, so the pollution of the Hout Bay River is not a new phenomenon, but a severe ongoing issue.

There are numerous papers written about the river and its state of pollution available online. From those I have read, most researchers attribute the contamination of the river and high levels of E. coli to sanitation and waste problems originating in Imizamu Yethu and Dontse Yakhe. It would seem that several public bodies have tried to find a solution to this ever-growing problem, but all have failed, due to the sheer problems they faced:  lack of support from many departments within the City of Cape Town Municipality, mountain of bureaucratic red tape, lack of support from IY communities themselves, to name but a few.

It would be realistic therefore, to assume that the provision of proper infrastructural services to IY will take many years to accomplish (not withstanding further population growth due to the current uncontrolled influx). It has been proposed by various experts, over the past decade, that the City give consideration to providing Bio-Remedial treatment to polluted “storm” water in the vicinity of the Victoria Bridge pump station, as this is where most of the pollution from IY finally ends up prior to it being discharged into the river (see page 17 : Pollution Source G) By implementing  “end of pipe” intervention here, this will undoubtedly lessen the pollution load entering the river significantly, as well as provide an ecologically sound water “cleaning” method to supplement the existing low-flow diversion facility. We need this to be implementing without further procrastination!

In 2015 an organization called in/formal south started to design a waste and water treatment project for Hout Bay based on Biomimicry: reducing pollution/waste, improving sanitation and river health using plant-based cleaning processes by creating a “living” corridor” of natural and indigenous planting from Imizamu Yethu down to the river, which would filter and clean the black and grey water emanating from the township. Funding for this was granted by the Dutch aid organization Cordaid whose funding had a caveat that this project could not proceed without support from the City of Cape Town.  Sadly, despite in/formal south’s best efforts to engage with various city departments and mayoral committees, Councilors etc. support for this project was not forthcoming and was never placed on any of department’s decision-making agendas. Even with the intervention of the Dutch Consulate, no progress was made resulting in Cordaid’s funding coming to an end and a potential, cohesive environmentally centered water and waste project for Hout Bay was lost. I believe we need to try and re-instate such public/private initiatives, insist on better municipal support, less red tape and look to the environment itself to find workable solutions to saving our river, before it is too late!

Ending on a positive note, through the continued support and open lines of communication implemented by Abdulla Parker (the City’s Catchment Storm water and River Management- Water and Sanitation dept.) and the HBRCF (Hout Bay River Catchment Forum) some progress has been made and a better working relationship with some municipal departments has been established, but Hout Bay’s pollution problems are severe, we have a long way to go to solve them and to save the Hout Bay’s immensely valuable  resource, the river and her associated wetlands.