Knysna Municipality given two-week deadline to solve unchecked raw sewage spillages
Some Knysna residents have been left without water for days and are regularly exposed to raw sewage as infrastructure has collapsed due to a lack of maintenance and management expertise. Now, the council has been given 14 days to develop an action plan.
The Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning on Tuesday gave the Knysna Municipality 14 days to devise a plan to resolve a sewage pollution debacle, according to MEC Anton Bredell, who attended a meeting with the Knysna mayor and full council on 28 November.
“The pre-directive was issued as the municipality has not implemented reasonable measures to address the ongoing raw sewage spillages emanating from overflowing manholes and sewerage pipelines in the Hunters Home and Hornlee Residential area, and at the Woods in Lake Brenton residential area,” said Bredell.
This had caused significant pollution in the Knysna Estuary and affected the health and wellbeing of residents, he said.
As sewage runs through the town, residents have struggled to access water since 24 November and have had to rely on water tanks. This is a result of the Old Place Reservoir running dry.
Areas affected include Sunridge, Bigia, Pezula, Sedgefield, Leisure Island, Sparrebosch, Entabeni, Dam Se Bos, Eastford and Old Place.
Peter Bester, a DA ward councillor in Knysna, said “some of the [water] trucks are not always reaching residents, such as residents from Eastford Street”.
The municipality says it has increased pumping capacity to other reservoirs to mitigate risk.
According to Bester, most sewage has been flowing into the Knysna Estuary, imposing serious health risks to residents and local wildlife. In videos shared by residents, a buck was seen grazing on a grassland into which raw sewage had been flowing.
“There are microbial and chemical hazards related to untreated and poorly treated sewage,” said Prof Leslie Petrik from the University of the Western Cape.
These microbial hazards include the presence of E. coli, which should be considered a warning of possible health hazards to those who come into contact with the water, said Petrik.
“Sewage contains many pathogenic bacteria and viruses, and many of these disease-causing organisms can survive for days in the environment. Sewage also contains helminths (worms) and other parasites, depending on the health of the population from whence the sewage derives,” she said.
Organic compounds found in sewage and sewage-impacted zones include antibiotics, antiretrovirals and painkillers, depending on the community. These compounds bioaccumulate in aquatic organisms such as fish and mussels as well as other edible species. Hence they could come back to us via our food, said Petrick.
“The bacteria that survive the exposure to sewage can cause nasty infections that cannot be treated by our normal antibiotics any more. Any infection caught from sewage is likely to be very resistant to treatment and require extensive hospital stays,” she said.
Furthermore, diseases found in sewage include gastroenteritis, which may cause infant deaths, said Petrik.
There are several sewage overflows and spillages which run into the stormwater drains on Waterfront Drive, Templeman Road, Salie Street and Ridge Drive, according to Bester.
“Templeman has been going for about a month. Ridge Drive was reported three weeks ago,” he said.
Residents of Lake Brenton have experienced similar issues, said resident Leonie du Preez.
The Woods and Ridgewood Development in Lake Brenton in Knysna was approved in November 2005 on the condition that the development would connect to the sewer reticulation system in Belvidere, a nearby neighbourhood.
However, 18 years later, the ANC-led Knysna Municipality has still not connected the development to the sewer reticulation system, or conducted any maintenance on the tank, according to Du Preez.
The municipality continued approving building plans and now the tank overflows as 65 homes now use the one 80 kilolitre tank, which was initially only suited for 10 homes.
Knysna residents have voiced their concerns across social media, expressing disgust not only at the daily raw sewage overflows and resultant health and environmental risks, but also the poor municipal management that has created the crisis.
Nwabisa Pondoyi, a communications officer for Knysna Municipality, said that engineers would assist the municipality in formulating an emergency plan by 1 December to address the sewage challenges.
“The department of local government is finalising a diagnostic plan for Knysna, and concurrently to this, a support plan, which is being compiled with the support of both provincial and national departments.
“Council will, at its next meeting, consider the diagnostic, whereafter a broad range of support interventions will be available to help the municipality move forward,” said Pondoyi. DM