City responds to Zandvlei petition

ATT: Save the Zandvlei petition promotors/concerned residents

Dear Sir/Madam



The City notes the concerns raised in the “Save Zandvlei” petition, as well as the broader water quality challenges across the metro, and would like to engage residents in the most meaningful and transparent manner possible.

A local stakeholders meeting took place on 23 April 2021, at which key information regarding pollution abatement efforts were communicated to attendees. The City’s Catchment, Stormwater and River Management Branch, in collaboration with Cllr Aimee Kuhl, are planning a Sand River Catchment public open day, where various line departments responsible for pollution mitigation will have various exhibits. Respective line department officials will be available at these exhibits to answer questions relating to their core expertise. As the Sand River catchment is a much bigger catchment, spanning many wards, the other relevant local ward councillors will also be available at this public open day.

Current status
The Zandvlei waterbody was closed to members of the public today (25/05/2021) due to compromised water quality as a result of damaged pumps at the Clifton Road pump station, which led to sewage entering the vlei. Microbiological test results indicate that E.coli levels exceed the thresholds for safe intermediate recreational contact with water.

Observations on site indicate that foreign objects in the sewer line were likely the main cause of the fault. A replacement pump was installed by Monday morning, which has reportedly stopped the overflow.

This closure shall be in effect until water quality returns to satisfactory levels.. Comprehensive follow up sampling is scheduled for this week and will continue until it is determined that the water is safe for intermediate recreational usage.

This is the fourth occasion in two years that Zandvlei has been fully closed due to contamination associated with sewer spills.

The Clifton Road Pump station linked to the Royal Road Bridge spill has been operational since 11h30 Monday 24/05/2021.


The City of Cape Town manages the three large recreational vleis (Zandvlei, Zeekoevlei and Rietvlei) which are used for a variety of water sports, namely sailing, power boating, canoeing, rowing, windsurfing, and fishing. All three vleis are located in proclaimed nature reserves.
Zandvei is the only functioning estuary on the False Bay Coastline. Estuaries are generally highly productive ecosystems, and provide a range of goods and services ranging from nursery areas for juvenile fish, to stopovers for migrant birds, and recreational opportunities for local inhabitants. The diversity and amount of fish and other life in Zandvlei is staggering (30 fish species) and include sandprawn, white steenbras, leervis and harder. For example, in the 2012 fish die off in Zandvlei as a result of a golden algae bloom, it was estimated that only 10% of the fish actually died. You might remember the large volumes of fish that surged out of the vlei over a period of about a month.

Detailed Water Quality results
Over the last 2 years, Zandvlei was fully closed to recreational activities due to sewage spills on four occasions:

14/05/2019-15/05/2019 (partial);
15/05/2019- 31/05/2019 (full)
26/06/2019 – 04/07/2019 (full)
27/09/2019-04/10/2019 (partial);
04/10/2019-10/10/2019 (full)
25/05/2021: Current

Two of these closures began as partial closures and were upgraded to full closures after further testing was done. Whilst the Zandvlei waterbody was closed at times during 2020, these closures were solely due to lockdown regulations and not linked to water quality issues.

The continued and numerous sewage spill incidents into the Zandvlei waterbody have been a long standing concern, with particular apprehension around the cumulative impacts on the water quality and ecological health of the system.

Discussions initiated by Biodiversity Management in 2018 with all relevant line functions around short and long term interventions to prevent this contamination resulted in a very positive collaborative effort. The area subject to most of the recorded incidents was identified as the Sand River Canal, in particular the storm water outlet below the Coniston Park litter trap. The Water and Sanitation department was already in the process of implementing a significant intervention to address challenges confronting the reticulation system, which entailed the upgrade of Lowlift Pump station in Retreat and the replacement of specific pipelines (further detail on this project may be found below, under the section outlining specific sewer infrastructure projects, both operating and capital, that have either been completed or are underway).

As this was an effective long term solution, focus was shifted to a short term intervention that could be implemented during the above-mentioned construction phase. Stormwater Management and Sanitation staff assisted in providing a final design and the subsequent implementation of a portable wooden weir structure that would be fitted to the side channel of the Sand River canal (containing the stormwater outlet through which sewage overflows are channelled into the canal). This structure would effectively dam up and contain spill events that would then be removed from the canal via a Honeysucker vehicle to prevent the pollutants entering the Zandvlei waterbody. This system was made operational and used successfully to contain a sewage spill on 24 January 2020 for the first time. This structure has significantly reduced pollution of the vlei. This partnership collaboration delivered an inventive solution with significantly positive results for this system. The commitment and dedication of the teams involved in taking on challenging situations and improving service delivery are commendable.

The City has a dedicated water quality monitoring programme which measures chemistry, bacteriology, and algae at these vleis. The best indication of water quality and ensuring that the water is safe for recreation is to monitor the bacteriology as well as the algal species and their abundance. Blooms of algal species, such as the golden algae and blue green algae can cause health issues for humans and wildlife. Thresholds for Microcystis (toxin produced by Blue-green algae) and Chlorophyll speak to algal blooms, and may be viewed in the link below (as published in the 2021 Inland Water Quality Report available on the CCT website).
and-wetlands/cape-towns-rivers-and-wetlands#Heading2). The intermediate contact is most relevant for Zandvlei as the water sports (such as sailing, canoeing, and windsurfing) conducted in the vlei are all intermediate contact.

Test results from the recent spill currently affecting the vlei are being processed and will be communicated once finalized.

The below information from the database also shows the results for Jan and Feb 2021. This indicates 4 consecutive months (with the March and April results) of E.coli counts well within the threshold for intermediate contact recreational use. There have been no sewage spills recorded during March that I am aware of, apart from a sewage spill on the 13 April 2021 which was contained to the Sand River canal by using sand bags. This helps demonstrate that there are only limited windows in which intermediate contact with the water carries increased health risks. Where there is a water quality incident a co-ordinated response between the Environmental Management Department and Water and Waste, as well as a number of other line functions, is undertaken to both limit pollution and mitigate risks to water users.

Most issues highlighted emanate from outside the nature reserve and include sewage overflows and spillage, solid waste washing in from canals, and polluted stormwater. Civil unrest in the Capricorn/Vrygrond area in the past few years has exacerbated the issue with the blocking of waste water reticulation pipes and the destruction of sewage pump stations. The resultant sewage overflows reach Zandvlei through the storm water system. There is an action matrix after each major incident which is drawn up by the relevant official from the Catchment, Stormwater and River Management Branch in collaboration with other line departments (EMD, Health, Water & Sanitation and Solid Waste Management), and where necessary the vlei is closed until water quality improves to acceptable levels again.

In summary, Zandvlei’s water quality challenges are generally in line with what is expected for an urban system and are normally well within acceptable water quality standards. The City continues to strive towards improving the water quality of Zandvlei and our other watercourses despite the many challenges these systems face within the urban context. A more comprehensive explanation of the current status and long term trends of the water quality in Zandvlei and other waterbodies across the City is provided in the reports available on the City website, as indicated above, and provides a very succinct summary of the conditions of these urban settings to the public.

We therefore ask for:
A written undertaking outlining the short term achievable actions (12 months max) of the CoCT to protect Zandvlei from future sewage and industrial spills.

Sewer infrastructure projects, both operating and capital, that have either been
completed or are under way

The City allocated approximately R350 million between July 2019 and June 2021 on upgrades and rehabilitation of the sewage network.
Items specific to Zandvlei:

New Pump Station in Military Road; Refurbishment of Retreat Main Pump Station; Lining and re-laying of the main sewer through Seawinds / Vrygrond

The new pump station (Low Lift) is almost completed and should be commissioned by the end of May 2021. We have already seen a dramatic reduction of sewage flow into the Sand River, the regular spills will certainly cease. The new station has vastly enhanced backup systems in place to deal with challenges like loadshedding.

The sewer pipeline between Low Lift and Retreat Main required refurbishment. This 1200mm sewer was rehabilitated (CIPP) and a section re-laid as part of the pump station contract – we are now blockage / sewer spill free from that source, so a huge success there (completed).

Further to this Retreat Main pump station was also refurbished and brought up to modern standards (completed).

All of the above works were executed as part of the Low Lift contract. This project has recently been completed and will be commissioned shortly despite the attacks and damage to plant and equipment on site during the construction.

Re-lining of the sewers on the Muizenberg beachfront to prevent sand ingress into Axminster Road

Scope: CIPP Lining of the sewers in Beach Road, Atlantic Road and the Roads on the mountain side of Main Road
Status: completed Budget: R4.5 million
Benefit: reduction of blockages, improving the water quality of the Muizenberg beachfront as well as the Zandvlei Estuary

Cleaning of sewers in Axminster and Clifton Roads
Scope: Removal of sand from the 800mm diameter sewer in Axminster and Clifton Roads
Status: completed Budget: R 1 200 000
Benefit: reduction of blockages, improving the water quality of the Zandvlei Estuary

Cleaning of sewers on Albertyn Road
Scope: Removal of sand from the 300mm diameter sewer in Albertyn Road Status: completed
Budget: R 50 000

Benefit: reduction of blockages, improving the water quality of the Zandvlei Estuary

This is over and above the regular day to day blockage clearing and other maintenance work.

A Pollution Abatement Strategy and Action Plan (PASAP) specifically for the sand River catchment is in development and is expected to be finalized by the end of August 2021. This forms part of the City’s Water Quality Improvement Programme and will include sewer spill pollution.

The City will continue to respond to sewer incidents as timeously and effectively as possibly, as per the Sewer Incident Management Protocol. The emergency protocol for Zandvlei involves direct communication with stakeholders and resident groups.

We therefore ask for:
the current plans of the CoCT that will be implemented to effectively resolve the silting and sedimentation problem.

· Opportunities for silt and litter traps within the broader catchment will be identified through the PASAP (refer above)
· The City has also initiated the Liveable Urban Waterways (LUW) Project. The project intends to naturally canalise sections of river and construct nature based solution/wetlands to assist with water quality and biodiversity improvements. It is intended to address multiple issues regarding water entering Zandvlei. The overall goal is to intercept and clean water coming down the Sand River and Langevlei rivers, focusing particularly on nutrient loads, litter, sediments and sewage. Extensive public participation will be involved and the project has already been introduced at the recent ZPAAC meeting held on 30 March 2021. What’s exciting about this project is that we can address water quality before it enters the vlei and improve the ecological habitat of the area.

· Stage 1 dredging within Zandvlei (from the river mount into the vlei) was undertaken using long-boom and amphibious excavators in the 2019/2020 financial year
· Stage 2 dredging was undertaken this financial year (Aug/Sep 2020)
· Stage 3 dredging is planned for this financial year (May/June 2021)
· Mouth management: The opening/closure of the mouth is done using dozers, which is an effective way of moving significant volumes of sand. The mouth is opened in winter to prevent flooding properties adjacent to the vlei. Regarding the rubber weir and mouth closure, it should be noted that without this Zandvlei would completely dry up in summer months as there is simply not enough water coming down to maintain water levels naturally. Zandvlei estuary and catchment was progressively and extensively modified since 1930 which has left a long legacy of artificial manipulation of the system. The City aims to manage the system in accordance with the legislative requirements and in line with the ecological best practice stipulated in the comprehensive assessments and action plans detailed in the Zandvlei Estuarine Management Plans (dated 2010 and 2018 (draft)).

We therefore ask for:

· Confirmation from the CoCT that a contract for the clearing of the canals will be finalised before 30-04-2021 and be renewed on an annual basis.
· Assurance that the canals will be cleared manually or mechanically monthly, as well as before every rain event, should the state of the canals require it.
· An undertaking from COCT that all available measures will be taken to ensure access to the canals at known dumping hotspots is prevented.

· Tender 121S/2019/20 (ref 1st bullet point above) has been active since 01 April 2021 (Inaugural meeting held with Contractors on 01 April 2021) and cleaning activities will start to ramp-up as Contractors mobilize and deploy their teams.
· Canals / litter grids are currently cleaned every two months. Monthly cleaning is currently not viable due to budget constraints, but will be reviewed in future budgetary processes. Litter grids will be cleaned a day before rains, and every day throughout the duration of the rain event.
· Illegal dumping is primarily a Law Enforcement and Solid Waste mandate, but does require the cooperation of multiple stakeholders. Dumping hotspots will be considered in the proposed PASAP (refer above).

Algae in the Marina
The vlei and Marina have been prone to higher than usual filamentous algae growth, this is not unexpected in eutrophicated urban systems. The current situation is thought to be due to a few compounding factors which could include the following: pondweed stands are recovering from an absence in the previous season, which has provided a niche for additional filamentous algae growth in eutrophicated conditions, as well as unseasonably late winds which has led to increased evaporation, lower water levels and higher water temperature. These circumstances compounded by the lack of biomass removal by the weedharvester machine, which also assists with water mixing and aeration, creates favourable conditions for algal blooms. Such algal blooms can reduce dissolved oxygen levels within waterbodies. Low oxygen levels can in turn affect aquatic organisms negatively. The City continues to monitor dissolved oxygen levels in the Marina and main waterbody, as well as the occurrences of algal blooms.

Zandvlei Weedharvester
We therefore ask for:
A copy of the tender issued for the new harvester, written confirmation of the procurement status with a date of delivery, and if complete, the name of the successful bidder.
• If a procurement process has not started, then a copy of the last minutes at which the new harvester was discussed,
• A clear explanation as to why the existing harvester has been inoperative for several months for what is believed to be a minor repair.
• A copy of the minutes of the last meeting where the repair of said harvester was discussed.

• A summary of the monthly operating hours for the past 24 months.

The Zandvlei Weedharvester was inoperable for some time due to a few mechanical faults (such as the bearings on the rear conveyor belt). Notifications for the repair were timeously submitted, however, due to delays associated with a new supply chain management process recommended by the Auditor General, the repairs took months to complete. Repairs have now been completed, and is currently operating.

Furthermore, the tender for the new weed harvester tender has been awarded. The MOA was signed and the vendor has indicated that the anticipated delivery date is December 2021 / January 2022.

In closing:

The City of Cape Town recently released its Inland Water Quality Report. The report covers historic water quality trends in the major rivers and open waterbodies in the city, and also focuses on the five-year period from April 2015 to March 2020. It details key challenges towards improving the health of urban waterways. Going forward annual data will be used to assess the efficacy of programmes and activities aimed at reducing water pollution. The summary booklet and technical report are now available to the public here, Link to the Inland Water Quality Report Summary:
InlandWaterQuality2019; To view the full report,
visit w

The City would also like to invite the petition authors, along with a limited number signatories (due to necessary precautions related to mitigation of the spread of Covid-
19) to join us in officially opening the newly upgraded Retreat Pump Station, whose new design will significantly reduce the number of pump station failures due to blockages, and ensure a vastly improved reticulation of the sewer system in the area. The project is at an advanced and final completion is scheduled for the latter half of June 2021. A formal invitation will be forthcoming once details are confirmed.

Yours faithfully

Michael Killick
Director: Bulk services

In the sewer with City engineer Andrew Taylor

We recently caught up with City of Cape Town (CoCT) engineer Andrew Taylor, who was one of the speakers at a recent public meeting at the Zandvlei Lookout to discuss the state of our waterways. We were particularly keen to know more about the efforts his department is making to bring local sewerage systems up to an acceptable standard and where the Marina fits into the work programme.

At the meeting, you mentioned that CoCT is spending significant sums on our sewerage infrastructure. Is there a figure attached to that investment?

Between July 2019 and June 2021, CoCT allocated approximately R350 million towards upgrading and rehabilitating the sewage network. The Zandvlei-specific figures are as follows:

  • Muizenberg sewer relining – R4 500 000
  • Albertyn Road sewer cleaning – R50 000
  • Axminster Road and Clifton Road sewer cleaning – R1 200 000
  • New pump station in Military Road, Retreat Main refurbishment and re-lining of sewers – R82 000 000

This investment is over and above the regular, day-to-day blockage clearing and other maintenance work.

One of the issues you brought up were the leaking pipes at Surfers’ Corner. Apparently, they were full of holes so sand was coming in and causing blockages. You sent cameras down to inspect and followed up by cleaning out the pipes and covering them with fibreglass socks. We’d would love you to explain this process in more detail.
We clean the pipes thoroughly using high-pressure water jets, circular squeegees and any other appropriate tool. Next, a resin-impregnated tube, the liner, made of felt-like material is either pulled through the inside of sewer line, not on the outside; or inserted using water pressure from manhole to manhole, whichever method best suits the situation. The liner is then inflated with a water balloon and cured over several hours. This balloon is withdrawn once the resin has hardened. This method is known as a cured in place pipe, or CIPP.

How much of the Muizenberg area has undergone this process?
So far, we have covered the beachfront and Atlantic Road as far down as Zandvlei as well as the area on the mountain side of the Main Road. This was by far the largest source of sand infiltrating the sewer system. If all goes according to plan, we will line the Old Village in Muizenberg next, hopefully starting in the coming financial year.

This sounds like a good news story that more people would be interested in knowing about. How long do the pipes last once the fibreglass socks are on – and why does this method work well?
We have used CIPP for at least 25 years and the treated pipes are still 100% functional. The supplier is confident of achieving a 50-year life span. But to quote an internet source: “The warranty covers 50 years, but the lining can last longer than this, even to around 100 years.”

We use CIPP as the costs are now comparable to other methods, there are no joints in the line and, with no excavation involved, it is relatively non-intrusive. It has proved to be impervious to water either entering into or seeping out of the pipe.

What about the Axminster sewer, which also came up at the meeting. After extensive cleaning, is this pipeline now safe?
If by safe you mean there is no danger of flooding or spillages, then yes. We have a high degree of confidence that it has been effectively cleaned. We will, however, monitor it very carefully over the next year for signs of irregular or excessive flow.

What is the pipeline system in Marina da Gama and under the vlei like? Are we in danger of extensive leaks?
Marina da Gama has a relatively low incidence of blockages but has not yet undergone an extensive survey/inspection. The pipeline under the vlei is a cast iron pipe encased in concrete and supported by concrete piles. In 2014, I also lined the pipe using the CIPP method just to make sure there was no impending disaster.

When will the new pump station in Military Road/Seawinds be completed and are we likely to stop having leaks into the Sand River once it is finished?
The new Low Lift pump station is almost completed and should be commissioned by the end of this month. We have already seen a dramatic reduction of sewage flowing into the Sand River and the regular spills will certainly cease. No one can guarantee any mechanical installation. That said, the new station certainly has far better backup systems in place. Load shedding comes to mind here.

It is not only the pump station that has been problematic in the past. The sewer pipeline between Low Lift and Retreat Main has been in a state of collapse for a while, causing several major spills. We rehabilitated this 1200mm pipeline using the CIPP method and re-laid a section as part of the pump station contract. We are now free of blockages and sewer spills from that source, which adds up to a huge success. In addition, we also refurbished the Retreat Main pump station and brought it up to modern standards.

All of these works were executed as part of the Low Lift contract.

Photo: Racine Edwardes

You said that you have two other suburbs to do and then intend to focus on the pipes in Vrygrond. I imagine that is a very big job as the area has grown and there probably isn’t enough infrastructure. What would your plan be there and how would it affect Marina da Gama and Zandvlei?
We are busy cleaning 50km of pipe in the Lotus River before going on to Ocean View. Next, we will cover Seawinds and Lavender Hill, which have a high incidence of blockages. This phase will include as much of Vrygrond as possible if the situation there allows. Please take note that the stormwater system in Vrygrond does not discharge into the Marina or Zandvlei. It flows down to the south.

It is still early days, but we are seeing a reduction in blockages in Lotus River, so we certainly hope to see the same trend wherever else we work. Apart from improving living conditions for residents in these suburbs, the desired effect would be to lower the nutritional and bacteriological load being deposited into the vlei. This is an unknown quantity for us. I do not know if anyone has ever actually measured the end result of such a large operation.

‘Let’s Give Dignity and also uphold the law’

City of Cape Town Executive Mayor Dan Plato has called on residents to ‘give dignity’ by ensuring donations help people to get off the streets sustainably. In an open letter, the Mayor says the City is receiving a significant increase in complaints related to people living on the street. In response, the City and NPO partners are offering daily social assistance, while working to uphold the rule of law in partnership with residents, Neighbourhood Watches, and the South African Police Service (SAPS). 

“As the Mayor of this City, I take pride in how our City looks, how it works for everybody who lives in it, and how we care for those who are struggling to make ends meet. I am concerned national disaster regulations are creating a situation that is unsustainable, alongside attempts to set dangerous precedents in our courts. I will do everything I can to bring this into balance. No person should live on the streets, and we must not create homes on streets,” reads Mayor Plato’s open letter to residents.

“We need to end the cycle of dependence on direct handouts, and we can only do that by giving responsibly. The City’s Give Dignity Campaign advocates for alternative, more impactful ways of helping people get off the streets sustainably.”

Direct handouts such as tents and cash do not help efforts to encourage people living on the streets to accept more sustainable solutions, said the Mayor.

“It is important that your donations incentivise reintegration, and go directly to supporting persons who have committed to rebuilding their lives off the streets.”

Disaster Regulations must urgently change

Temporary national Disaster Management Regulations have brought about restrictions on how all public and private landowners are able to respond to illegal occupations, states Mayor Plato’s open letter. To remove structures deemed as ‘occupied’ under the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land (PIE) Act, an eviction order must be obtained.

But, the temporary disaster regulations limit the ability of courts to grant eviction orders. Currently, it is possible only to remove temporary makeshift structures that have been abandoned or are incomplete, and to clear the vicinity.

“This is causing a crisis in cities across South Africa, and I have raised my concerns directly with President Ramaphosa. Thousands of people have illegally occupied land and public spaces, including train tracks, sand dunes, sidewalks, and thoroughfares, in stormwater detention ponds, and on privately-owned land, to mention just a few examples. There are also basic service demands emerging from new illegally occupied areas, even in cases where the land is unsuitable or dangerous for habitation.

“In many instances, court processes will need to be followed to address these issues. This is going to be a major challenge, but it is one we must urgently take on. My call remains for the President to urgently make the necessary regulatory changes for the sake of the rule of law, the greater good of our communities, and the development goals of our cities,” states Mayor Plato.

The Mayor further outlines how the City is fighting in the courts to retain the existing right of all public and private landowners to protect property.

“The well-established legal right – known as ‘counter-spoliation’ – is being targeted by the South African Human Rights Commission, EFF and Legal Resources Centre. Their application argues that a court order should be obtained before acting to prevent a land invasion in real-time, even in cases where structures are half-built and unoccupied. We are opposing this application and the chaos it is intended to bring about,” said Mayor Plato.

Cape Town is a ‘Caring City’

While shelters and social welfare is the constitutional mandate of national and provincial government, the City is going above and beyond to assist.

The Mayor’s open letter outlines several initiatives Cape Town is involved in as a ‘Caring city’, including:

  • A Reintegration Unit working daily to link willing individuals to shelters, reunite families where possible, and offer support to obtain ID documents, social grants, employment training, and EPWP jobs;
  • An emergency Covid-19 grant-in-aid package worth R34 million released to NPOs;
  • Funding for Safe Spaces and the expansion of shelters operating on City-owned land;
  • Annual Winter Readiness campaigns working with shelters to care for more people when the worst weather arrives.

“There are many stories of personal triumph by persons who were once on the street and whom we have helped that I am very proud of,” said Mayor Plato. “We are all equal before the law”

Mayor Plato’s open letter states that Law Enforcement officers are ‘duty-bound to apply the law equally, and to respond to the hundreds of complaints from residents each month about anti-social behavior, breaking of by-laws, and crime committed by some people living on the street’.

When all offers of social assistance are rejected, only then does the City issue compliance notices and fines – the key legal mechanisms available to enforce by-laws.

“The City issues thousands of notices and fines each year, including to people living on the street, as we are all equal before the law. Sometimes it is difficult to balance the needs of different people and communities. That is why we are guided by our laws and policies, and apply these equally while playing our part to help those willing to accept it. ‘It is no crime to be poor or down on your luck, but every single resident has to comply with by-laws, and the law in general,” said Mayor Plato.

What the public can do to Give Dignity

By donating via a SnapScan QR code, or directly to a shelter or NGO, residents can help fund warm beds, social worker support, substance abuse rehab, and other support to help people stay off the streets on a sustainable basis.

“Our caring staff and NPO partners are committed to offering people a hand up, but when that fails, the City must be allowed to apply the rule of law. Let’s all keep giving and volunteering towards sustainable solutions while supporting the efforts of the City, NPOs, and enforcement agencies to make our streets safer,” concludes Mayor Plato’s open letter.