Our Burning Planet


East London municipality faces court action over sewage spills that pollute beaches and rivers

East London municipality faces court action over sewage spills that pollute beaches and rivers
The Nahoon Estuary in the Eastern Cape was closed after a sewage spill last week (Photo: Supplied)

Rolling blackouts and the vandalism of sewer pump stations in East London are causing major sewage spillages that are polluting the city’s beaches and rivers.

Overflowing sewer pump stations have caused pollution of the Nahoon River, Nahoon Beach, Gonubie Beach, Inhlanza River, Bonza Bay River and Bonza Bay Beach in East London.

The spills led to the closure of Nahoon Beach and Bonza Bay Beach last week.

Nahoon Estuary Management Forum chairperson Christo Theart said Nahoon and Bonza Bay beaches were closed because of sewage spills from sewer pump stations.

“The reasons for spills from sewer pump stations given by the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality (BCMM) are power failures because of load shedding, vandalism, failure to pump or [the] pump [has been sent in] for repairs and [the] pumping schedule… needs adjustment,” he said.

east london sewage

The Nahoon Estuary in the Eastern Cape was closed after a sewage spill last week (Photo: Supplied)

However, he said, “BCMM has a policy for pump stations. The guidelines for pump stations are that all pump stations must have an emergency sump with a storage capacity of four hours, pump stations must be fenced with a high-security gate with locks and sensors, and all pump stations must have at least two pumps — if one fails, the other kicks in.”

In addition, he said, pump stations have to have “a telemetry system that warns the municipality of any failure so they can respond immediately, and a standby generator at each pump station should the electricity supply fail”.

He said if all these measures were in place no sewage spills would occur.

“We are taking the municipality to court for every spill from a sewer pump station so that the high court can instruct the municipality to put these measures in place for that pump station,” Theart said.

He said the municipality did not have any of the requirements for pump stations in place.

“The only thing they have in place is an overflow into a stream or river or stormwater pipe to deal with overflows. This is illegal in terms of the Water Act.”

He said the forum would take the municipality to court over sewage spills into Gonubie Estuary, Nahoon Estuary and Quenera Estuary.

“In all these cases, we will ask the court to order BCMM to put measures in place in terms of their requirements for pump stations, as they are making no attempts to do it themselves. BCMM has not adhered to the court orders we obtained against them with regard to the sewer spills into Nahoon Estuary at Torquay Road and Nompumelelo. We have instructed our attorneys to file for contempt of court,” Theart said.

No backup generators

BCMM Ward 29 councillor Valerie Knoetze said the Gonubie River and beach were affected by the sewage spills.

east london sewage nahoon

Ward 18 councillor Jason McDowell said sewage was continuously flowing into the Nahoon River through the settlements of Cambridge and Nompumelelo. (Photo: Supplied)

“What happens with all our pump stations is that there are no backup generators and as soon as there is load shedding we have the overflow into the river. There are no signs as to why the rivers and beaches are closed.”

Knoetze said she called the municipality after load shedding to check whether the pump stations had been switched back on.

“They say they don’t have backup generators and as soon as they put generators they get stolen or get vandalised. It is a huge problem in all our pump stations and we have sewage running into the ocean,” she said.

Knoetze said the situation had worsened over time.

Ward 18 councillor Jason McDowell said sewage was continuously flowing into the Nahoon River through the settlements of Cambridge and Nompumelelo.

“There is also another flow from a housing complex in Beacon Bay and sometimes from Hemingways. Along the Nahoon River, the pipeline often overflows because the system is not maintained and also the design of the system is not big enough for the number of houses and toilets that are connected to it,” he said.

“In Inhlanza River we have a pipeline that runs from Vincent Park which is overflowing and sometimes bursts due to lack of maintenance. The pump stations that are not easily accessible — which are in the bushes — are vandalised,” he said.

‘The stench is horrible’

Ward 28 councillor Frederick Pohl said Bonza Bay River and Bonza Bay Beach were affected by the sewage spills.

“The sewage is still flowing and you can smell it when going to the beach. The stench is horrible in this weather. This has been going on for a long time and it is [due to] sewage leaks at the pump stations. The sewage is flowing straight to the beach and nothing is done,” he said.

He said a combination of factors caused the sewage spills, but in many cases they were caused by dilapidated infrastructure and residents putting material in toilets that caused blockages.

“Sometimes I feel for the municipality as they have to amend the mess that the people make, but sometimes the fault is that they don’t upgrade our infrastructure and they have made no attempt since load shedding started. The only way to prevent the spillage is to upgrade our pump stations with a sump to provide for load shedding,” said Pohl.

Councillor Sue Bentley said the Inhlanza River, at the border of Eastern Beach, was often very smelly.

“The smell is one of the reasons given by the organisers of the Iron Man as to why they have chosen not to come back to East London as the Inhlanza River is part of their route,” she said.

Bentley said one of the problems was that the sanitation department was under-resourced.

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“The turnaround time for an overflow or blockage should be 24 hours, but because they are under-resourced with no jetting machines, rods and vehicles, sometimes the turnaround time can be days or weeks. 

“They don’t have the resources that they used to have. They used to have three sections with eight vehicles each, each vehicle had 20 rods, but now each section has one vehicle with 15 rods in two sections and eight rods for the third section,” said Bentley.

She said many jobs could not be done because of a lack of resources.

“They used to have their own jetting machines but they don’t have them any more. When they go to tender, the people that get the tender do the jetting but don’t have high pressure to clear the line, so they do a half-job and get paid.”

Bentley said sewage spills were reported daily in the coastal part of the metro.

“There is no chance of getting a Blue Flag beach, which could help promote tourism and create much-needed employment,” she said.

BCMM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya had not responded to Daily Maverick’s questions by the time of publication. DM/OBP

Absa OBP

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