The Swartkops River is an extremely important estuary, destined to become an international Ramsar Wetland; 18 megalitres of raw sewage per week has flowed into the Swartkops River during the past three months, turning the River into a major ecological nightmare and a massive health hazard to surrounding communities; the solution is to fund a competent organization to redesign and replace the sewage infrastructure in Nelson Mandela Bay to international standards.
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Most of you will be shocked to read about the latest sewage pollution into the Swartkops. The sheer volume and length of time boggles the mind. In fact as I write this I am shocked all over again.
All other pollution pales into insignificance – even from Kelvin Jones WWTW in Uitenhage and the Motherwell Canal which is less than a kilometre away from our latest offender – THE MARKMAN STORMWATER CANAL.
The Markman Stormwater Canal comes from the Markman Industrial area and usually causes trouble when industries in Markman send industrial waste illegally down the drains into the canal or when the pump stations stop working and sewage industrial waste destined for Fishwater Flats WWTW lands up in the canal. Fortunately the canal is not cement lined like the Motherwell Canal.
There are reeds and other vegetation growing in the Markman to feed off the waste, so the water entering the Swartkops is not as polluted as when it started.
Unfortunately the Mother well sewerage pipe flows parallel to the Markman Stormwater Canal for a distance of 1Km in the area above the Aloes Community and opposite EnviroServ EP Brick. The sewerage pipe is directly above the canal and anything leaking from it flows down the side of the clay hill to the canal.
It all started on 1st October 2014 when vandals broke the cover of a manhole next to Grahamstown Rd near the Aloes Community. This resulted in a fountain of sewage which even sprayed the cars people going past for about 2 weeks. It caused a series of lakes in the wetlands next to the Aloes Community, but fortunately did not flow into the Swartkops Estuary.
To fix this the sewage had to be stopped was held back in the Brick fields pre-treatment Plant above EnviroServ. It seems that when the sewage was let out of here, the pressure was too great for the sewerage pipe. This resulted in a huge hole in the sewerage pipe just above the Aloes Community. This created “The Fountain of Babylon” which could be seen from far away as it blew sewage high into the air (at least it was being aerated to help get rid of some of the ammonia!!). This eroded the clay hillside dramatically and flowed for a long time down into the Markman Stormwater Canal.
At the same time another 2 holes developed in the sewerage pipe further along at the Wylde Bridge on the Swartkops side and in Marriner’s Row in Swartkops. The Marriner’s Row hole caused much trauma to the residents of the street as well as Neptune The Strand and poured like a river into the Swartkops. Marriner’s Row had a deep lake of sewage for ages which went into properties in the area.
After these were finally repaired – it took a long time as pipes had to be got in from Cape Town Pretoria or manufactured locally then galvanized – ( Marriner’s Row has still to be finally repaired once a specially made pipe has arrived), there was a slight pause….
Then the fun started in the Km section above Aloes Community again.
A total to date of 10 holes appeared 1 after the other. As soon as 1 was repaired another broke through. At 1 stage a whole section of the pipe disintegrated leaving a gap so all the sewage from Motherwell flowed down into the Markman Canal. Remember it took time to fix each hole once the pipe was obtained, which meant sewage flowed into the Markman Canal.
In the middle of all this drama, a huge hole developed in the sewerage pipe at Tiger Bay in Swartkops. Sewage flowed down the public slipway into Tiger Bay resulting in a bay of sewage. The boom had to be closed to stop the unsuspecting public from launching their boats.
This was in December when the holiday makers were here. This pipe has been fixed, but when I was there last week, I could see it has started to leak slowly again.The main area of concern has been the Markman Canal where most of the sewage flowed off and on until a week before
Christmas when the 10th hole blew higher up the pipe opposite EnviroServ Waste Site. This was difficult to locate as the pipe was deep down and under a stone gabion. The contractors front end loader got stuck in the clay and had to be extricated. Since then sewage flowed non-stop and still does now – 24 hrs a day 7 days a week. We estimate it is flowing at 30 litres per second. Work that out per day and then per month which is how long it has been flowing past the Aloes Community and into the Swartkops. What a Christmas New Year for them all.
On top of this 10th hole, 10 days ago I found that 3 of the holes that were repaired are leaking again and another new hole is starting up.
Why has the metro not fixed these latest holes in the pipe? I believe it is because they now find that the problem is a blockage at the Fishwater Flats WWTW which is causing the sewage to back up and has put the pipe under pressure. I am told that until this blockage is sorted out it is a waste of time repairing the holes. The problem at Fishwater Flats will hopefully be fixed by Sunday.
I live in hope!!
The present sewerage pipes which were laid 10 years ago are made of fibreglass and are not strong enough. Secondly because they go through clay it is essential to bed them so that they are not put under stress as the clay expands contracts. Thirdly a bigger diameter is needed to cope with all the sewage coming from the ever expanding Motherwell.
Obviously a new line of sewerage pipes needs to be put in to replace these pipes. This will take time and money. We think the metro should declare the Swartkops an Ecological Disaster Area to facilitate them in getting financial assistance so that work can start immediately.
I must make special mention of the assistance I have received from DWAS, especially David Bligh, who is now working closely with the metro in trying to solve this problem with them.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel!
This week saw the return to work of both Rodney Myburgh and Fay Meltz of the metro. Things are already happening to help solve the problems for the Swartkops and the Aloes Community. At 14h00 yesterday I saw the contractor arrive at the site of the 10th hole in the sewerage pipe. I have been informed that this hole will be repaired despite the work at Fishwater Flats not being complete. A plan has been made to stop the flow of sewage. I hope and pray this is so!
I am well aware of criticism from some residents and even some members of the Zwartkops Conservancy, of our publicizing the pollution problems in the Swartkops. These residents are naturally concerned about bad publicity and the effect this may have on property values.
They correctly point out that no one has yet died or even got ill from swimming in the Swartkops and people eat fish caught in the Swartkops every day.
Our concern is that if the situation of the Motherwell Sewerage Line is not rectified soon basically all the sewage from Motherwell will end up in the Swartkops.
The estuary can cope with a certain amount of pollution but once the tipping point is reached the system will collapse and the Swartkops will become a sewer. The same as the Thames did in the Middle Ages.
So what has the Conservancy done about it?
Firstly we have established a network of reliable observers who report sewage leaks to us.
We report every sewage leak to the metro and speak directly to the responsible officials. I can report that we generally get good co-operation from the officials.
They attempt to repair the leaks but there are often shortages of material and sometimes they take weeks to sort out. Basically there is a huge maintenance and infrastructure backlog. The Council have not given sufficient funding to solve the problems neither have they prioritized it. It is our view that the whole Motherwell Sewerage Line needs to be replaced. I understand there are no qualified sewerage engineers working at the metro so they appoint consultants !
We are in regular discussions with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWAS) and even go on regular inspections with them. They in turn speak to the metro.
We are also getting our lawyers to take action against the metro for neglecting the environment and the health of the river users but as you know the wheels of the law turn slowly and that will only help in the long term.
We talk to the scientists regularly and they report significant negative changes in the estuary that can only be the result of pollution. The river is now in a state of permanent eutrophication ie there are excess nutrients (in this case sewage) in the water, that use up all the oxygen.
It is therefore with a sense of desperation that we realise that it is only publicity which will get this matter rectified.
We hope that you are as concerned about this situation as we are and will support us in any action we take.
Furthermore please call the metro and lodge your complaints on 0800205050, the more people that complain the better.
Please write to the press and if you know anyone with influence then speak to them.
PLEASE HELP US.
Arthur Rump, Hon. Secretary
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