‘A tsunami of human waste’ – Half of South Africa’s sewage treatment plants are failing

The Green Drop report’s introduction of candidate rewards further complicates the picture. These are granted to sewage treatment plants that meet all the criteria but cannot receive a score of 90% (the minimum for certification) because they do not treat effluent to minimum standards.

Candidate status has been awarded to 30 wastewater treatment plants in the country, which gives the impression that their environmental impact is acceptable. However, eight of them failed miserably on effluent quality, cumulatively releasing billions of liters of partially treated wastewater into their catchments.

Discharging approximately 1 million liters of effluent into the River Diep daily, the Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Plant scored 89% in the Green Drop report, but failed to meet minimum water quality standards. effluents only 9% of the time during the year under review.

One of the six major estuaries on the west coast of South Africa, the River Diep estuary at Milnerton, Cape Town, experienced a massive fish kill in March. Estuaries like these are critically important as fish nurseries, says marine biologist and founder and director of Anchor Environmental Consultants, Dr. Barry Clark.

They are breeding grounds for a large number of species important to coastal fisheries – an essential source of sustenance for small-scale commercial and subsistence fishers, as well as recreational fishers who contribute to local economies.

“On the west coast there are only five or six reasonably large estuaries, and the Diep River is one of them,” Clark said, their rarity making them “disproportionately important for fishing.”

With Potsdam’s sewage treatment plants discharging huge volumes of sewage into the Diep River estuary, it is in an “extremely poor state of health at the moment”.

He said the quality of sewage flowing into the estuary had “seriously deteriorated” over the past decade. “The River Diep estuary is extremely important, and it is a tragedy that it is effectively lost to society,” Clark said.

The putrid state of the estuary, known locally as Milnerton Lagoon, has also had an impact on residents, who regularly post sewage flow advisories to a Facebook group and, as illustrated in the Hanse history, closed opportunities for young people from poor and working-class families. living in neighboring towns.

Milnerton Canoe Club president Richard Allen said his organization ran the development program in which Hanse and other young people from nearby townships were taking part. But, he says, he had to shut it down when the water got so polluted they couldn’t risk a child falling in.

Allen said they used to have about 20 kids in the program who spent time outside of an environment plagued by social ills and instead spent time in a healthy athletic environment. After the program had to be scrapped, he says, “a lot of them downgraded and went the other way.”

Club membership is also dwindling due to frequent sewage spills, making training days an uncertainty. He said about 30% of the members left, choosing to go to other relatively cleaner bodies of water. This meant that people who made money as coaches there were no longer able to do so.

Allen said the water was poisonous and the constant stench meant people living near the water’s edge could no longer sell their homes.

“It’s a disaster, a catastrophe,” he said.

Cape Town strives to improve Potsdam wastewater treatment works and rehabilitating the Diep estuary, but it is below the respond to a directive by the Provincial Environmental Management Inspectorate, a state office responsible for enforcing environmental legislation, in 2020.

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