Enough is enough on Milnerton pollution

Compliance with anti-pollution directives is not optional. OUTA calls on the City of Cape Town and provincial authorities to provide proof they are working to stop the ongoing sewage pollution of the Milnerton Lagoon.

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29/07/2021 10:56:44

Enough is enough on Milnerton pollution

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) and the Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Associations in Milnerton want to know what progress the City of Cape Town has made to reduce sewage pollution in the Diep River estuary and Milnerton Lagoon.

The organisations also want to know what Western Cape and national authorities are doing to ensure the City’s compliance.

The City is currently under a directive from the provincial government to remedy the state of the Diep River and Milnerton Lagoon. The directive was issued on 21 September 2020, following a long history of sewage spills which are mainly due to problems at the Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW). Some of the measures and timeframes were subsequently modified on appeal in January 2021, but the main directive stands.

In recent weeks, the Rietvlei Reserve, which forms part of the Table Bay Nature Reserve and which empties into the Diep River and Milnerton Lagoon during heavy rains, has been closed to the public due to widespread sewage pollution.

OUTA believes that the ongoing sewage spills mean that the City has not done enough to ensure compliance with the directive and protect the water system, and that the provincial government has failed to oversee compliance adequately. The authorities could hold the City criminally liable for non-compliance.

Sewage spills continue despite directive

“While progress has been made, the ongoing high level of sewage pollution in the Diep River system is evidence of the City’s failure to resolve the underlying issues, six months after the directive was confirmed. The pollution issue is a systemic issue and has even spilled over to other nature reserves, which is absolutely unacceptable,” says Andrea Korff, Senior Legal Project Manager at OUTA.

“The most recent photos show ongoing pollution. It is not surprising that the City’s test results revealed that the Diep River estuary mouth contained 380 000 cfu/100ml of E coli in tests carried out on 1 July. Furthermore, our independent water tests at the Erica Road outlet which flows directly into the Diep River show E coli levels between 3.9 million and 71.0 million, for the months of March to July 2021,” says Korff. The Erica Road outlet is specifically noted in the directive.

“The results in the recent reports are, as far as we know, some of the worst that have been yielded to date and demonstrate the significant ongoing pollution,” says Korff.

What OUTA is doing

As a result of the current situationnnnn, on 23 July 2021 OUTA wrote to the City of Cape Town, asking for “conclusive evidence” that it has complied with its obligations under the directive and regarding the Potsdam WWTW water-use licence.

Also on 23 July, OUTA wrote to the provincial and national oversight authorities – Western Cape MEC for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Planning Anton Bredell and Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu – asking for confirmation of measures they have taken to ensure the City’s compliance with the directive and water-use licence.

OUTA has received acknowledgements of receipt but has yet to receive comprehensive responses.

OUTA has repeatedly called for the City and Western Cape authorities to act on this issue and to be transparent with the public.

“Milnerton residents and visitors have had to deal with an environment that has been, and is still being, significantly compromised by the inadequacy of the wastewater treatment system, starting at the Potsdam WWTW and ending with the discharge of untreated or inadequately treated wastewater where the Diep River flows into the Milnerton Lagoon. There has been a relentless violation to several of the residents’ fundamental rights,” says Korff.

“When will enough be enough? When will the City of Cape Town take responsibility for the pollution? When will the oversight authorities hold the City to account?”

OUTA has asked the City and the oversight authorities to provide answers within 14 days. 

“If we do not receive a response or should the response not be satisfactory, we will have no choice but to consider taking further action, which may include approaching the court for appropriate relief, referring the matter to the Human Rights Commission, or submitting a formal complaint to the SAPS,” says Korff.

OUTA will continue to monitor the quality of the water being discharged within the Diep River Estuary and will continue to apply pressure on authorities.

Further information

A soundclip with comment from OUTA's Andrea Korff is here.

OUTA’s letter to the City of Cape Town on 23 July 2021 is here.

OUTA’s letter to MEC Anton Bredell on 23 July 2021 is here.

OUTA’s letter to Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu on 23 July 2021 is here.

The Western Cape directive against the City of Cape Town of September 2020 is here and the appeal decision of January 2021 is here.


Picture: Johnnie Miller