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Subject: Winelands sewage crisis threatens building
Winelands sewage crisis threatens building
June 06 2006 at 08:39AM
By Jessica Roberts
Authorities in the Winelands District have been advised not to approve new building projects until the overloaded sewage works in Franschhoek have been upgraded.
And it emerged on Monday that the volume of sewage the rickety works in Franschhoek was having to process was three times its capacity, leading to daily spills into the Berg River.
Stellenbosch has been grappling with similar problems.
A Mr C Davids, senior environmental health practitioner at the Cape Winelands District Municipality, wrote a letter on May 26 saying that Franschhoek's sewage works was in violation of the department of water affairs's standards.
"The quality of the final effluent does not comply due to the overloading of the sewage works," he said in his letter, sent to elected councillors and other officials in Franschhoek. Nicholas Johannes, operator at the sewage works, said on Monday the plant took in 4 000 kilolitres a day, but could handle only a third of this amount.
Partly treated and untreated sewage was being discharged every day from the Franschhoek sewage works into the Berg River, Davids wrote.
New developments approved by the planning and development department in Franschhoek were putting more pressure on the overloaded system. Properties that had been sold as single units had been subdivided and more houses built.
The new houses were being connected to the sewerage system, although it could not cope with the load it had.
Davids recommended that the municipality "not approve any new building works until the sewage works have been upgraded". An upgrade "is of utmost importance".
The sewage plant has not been upgraded in the 16 years that Johannes has been operator.
"The plant was built long before the influx of people," said Leonard Seelig, chairperson of the aesthetics committee in Franschhoek. He said the population had at least doubled.
"The plant is not big enough to hold all the inflow from the sewers," Johannes said. "It should have been upgraded five years ago."
The situation was becoming "worse and worse", Jo Barnes, senior lecturer and epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University, said on Monday.
She said although the municipality could claim the works were capable of handling the flow, this referred only to their hydraulic capacity, or the flow of water through the system, not to the works' capacity to treat sewage.
Tests on water samples taken from the Berg River on February 7 by the national microbial monitoring programme found 547 500 E coli bacteria to each 100ml. In November and December, at the height of the fruit irrigation season, tests found between 92 080 and 22 470 bacteria to 100ml.
The department of water affairs says there should be no more than 2 000 E coli in 100ml, although international standards allow only half this number. The test results vary throughout the year according to the amount of run-off and the level of the river.
The pollution is compounded by an informal settlement that is further up the river and lacks services. Run-off water from the settlement also has a high bacteria count, according to Barnes.
The high level of bacteria in the river could have a serious effect on human health because a large amount of water is taken from the Berg River for human consumption.
"When foodstuffs are irrigated with contaminated water, food-borne diseases are a factor," Barnes said. Animals can act as a secondary route of infection.
Anton Rabe, CEO of the Deciduous Fruit Producers' Trust, said that water is filtrated prior to irrigation and "99 percent of our growers have kept compliance" with agricultural standards.
However, "there are very few filters on the market that filter out pathogens", Barnes said. They usually remove solids and chemicals, not viruses and bacteria.
Besides concerns about domestic consumption, there is a worry that the pollution will damage the markets for South African exports.
Foods exported to Europe must comply with various health standards, such as the Europe GAP (Good Agricultural Practices).
Farmers who irrigate their crops with the water do not control the sewage works, but Rabe said the growers are working with the irrigation boards and councils to address the issue.
"We're proactively trying to manage this," he said.
The trust has conducted its own trials but Rabe said the results are not yet finalised.
Rabe added that the sewage works at Paarl and Wellington are also "problematic" and have reached or are reaching full capacity.
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