“The municipality must acknowledge they have a problem with ageing infrastructure and insufficient maintenance. Sewage overflows into residential areas is completely unacceptable and cannot be left to continue.”
These are the damning words of Afesis-Corplan sustainable settlements specialist Ronald Elgin responding to residents living with sewage overflows into their backyards and streets.
Residents in East Bank, Scenery Park, Cambridge, Gonubie and Beacon Bay deal with sewage overflows constantly, and without urgent upgrades and regular maintenance, the sewage overflows will continue to be a part of daily life in these areas.
In Beacon Bay and Gonubie, sewage overflows are caused by continuously blocked manholes, which force municipal teams to be dispatched every two to three days to unblock the pipes.
Without regular bush clearing, leaks are hard to detect in areas such as Edge Road and this flows into the Quenera River.
In underdeveloped communities such as Pefferville, the sewage pipeline needs to be replaced entirely to a thicker pipeline that would be able to accommodate the rapid increase in population size since the pipe was first installed in the 1980s.
Some residents are also building developments on top of the sewer lines which are sensitive to the slightest movement in turn causing overflows.
BCMM infrastructure services submitted a report to council in October 2023, indicating that many piped systems get blocked on a regular basis due to the volumes of solid waste that enters the stormwater system caused by illegal dumping and delayed waste collection.
The report also said that programming of work is mostly reactive due to the shortage of resources and that the cost of maintenance budget has decreased by 12% since 2019.
It reads: “The allocated budget needs to increase significantly to be able to undertake the same amount of work not withstanding the existing backlog in maintenance which is ever increasing due to increasing costs.”
The overflows in residential areas are running into stormwater drains flowing out into the seas and rivers which attorney for Niehaus MacMahon Brandon Blignaut said, violates up to six different pieces of legislation.
Blignaut said: “The municipality has not heard the cries of residents who have been reporting sewage overflows for years. The residents feel they have no choice but to accept the conditions they live in.
“Any overflow flows into the seas and rivers which means that many public beachgoers using rivers like Nahoon have no idea they are swimming in water that is full of sewage.”
Blignaut is pursuing legal action against the municipality for sewage pump station overflow facilities at Blue Lagoon and Gonubie Estuary ground that are connected to the stormwater systems.
When the load-shedding lasts for longer than three hours and the facility has filled up to the maximum level, the sewage flows into the stormwater drain and in turn flows out into the Gonubie and Nahoon rivers.
Blignaut said that this was permitted in the 1980s but cannot hold up in 2023 given overpopulation and load-shedding.
The court action aims to force the municipality to separate the sewage from the stormwater entirely and secure generators for the overflow pump stations.
Blignaut said: “The municipality is quick to blame vandalism and theft of infrastructure, yet we have not heard any harsh repercussions being dealt out to those caught vandalising infrastructure.”
Resident from Elba Crescent on the East Bank, Delaney Ernstzen took the municipality to court in 2022 to deal with sewage overflows in his backyard that has been occurring since he moved into his home in 2020.
When the municipality addressed the order, it was found that the problem is bigger than it was initially assumed and that to permanently fix the overflow the sewer line behind his house needs to be replaced entirely to accommodate the influx of developments built in the area in recent years.
Ernstzen said: “I have lost R3,000 trying to address this since 2020.
“We are trapped in our house every day because we can’t use our backyard at all. I can’t let my son go outside to play and every time it rains the backyard is completely flooded with sewage and the smell seeps into the house.
“The walls are damp constantly and my concern is that the water is eating away at the foundation. At this stage, I am just waiting for the day that my house completely collapses.
“I am living in sewage. It’s so undignified and no one is helping me.”
West Bank resident Adrian Domoney has been living with sewage overflows into his backyard since 2017, when he bought the house and since then has spent close to R60,000 to fortify his home against damage caused by the sewage seeping into his foundations.
Domoney said: “My grandchildren cannot play in the yard because it is a health hazard.
“I no longer have home insurance because my insurer sent out contractors to condemn the house. The house must be demolished and rebuilt.
“I am focusing on what I can fix because I have nowhere else I can move to.”
Eglin said: “The persistent foul smell emanating from the overflow not only makes the environment unpleasant but can also lead to serious long-term health concerns.
“There is also the psychological trauma experienced by residents.
“The municipal budget needs to be re-prioritised to address immediate concerns like sewerage overflows.”
Beacon Bay ward councillor Frederick Pohl said: “We can’t always blame the municipality because there are officials trying their best, but they don’t have funding.
“People also need to be educated not to dispose of sanitary towels, wet wipes and condoms in toilets because this leads to blockages.”