Blocked sewer stench

City of Cape Town officials unblock a sewer in The Farm.

Mitchell’s Plain residents reported 1900 sewer blockages in the first seven months of the year, but most were caused by people putting things down the pipes that don’t belong there, says the City of Cape Town.

City sanitation workers removed tyres, shoes, building rubble and a bucket from a 45cm sewer pipe in Swartklip Road, close to The Farm in Montrose Park, last week.

Ward councillor Michael Pietersen said such items did not simply fall accidentally into the sewer.

“It takes great effort to carry these items, open the manhole cover and drop them into the sewer.”

The blockage caused sewers to overflow in The Farm, which had residents logging several sewage overflow complaints – from Samantha Street on Saturday August 1 and again more than three weeks later; in Rebecca Street on August 1; in Elizabeth Street on Wednesday August 12; and twice this month from Bertha Street.

A resident had complained that the road had been deluged with sewage for the past two months, Mr Pietersen said.

Resident Shanaaz Ward reported the sewage overflow twice in two weeks.

“It is unacceptable that we live with such a stench,” she said.

She encouraged her neighbours to report any municipal faults in their area.

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for water and waste, said the sewer line in Swartklip Road had blocked last month.

City teams had been on site, over-pumping during the day to prevent spillages, she said.

“Unfortunately this work had to cease at night for safety reasons as staff were subjected to continuous intimidation by some community members.

“The cause of the blockage was building rubble that was dumped into the drains, seemingly in an effort to store stolen items in the pipes.”

Mitchell’s Plain’s sewerage infrastructure was still in good condition, but foreign objects in the sewer lines were compromising it, she said.

“The power is in residents’ hands to prevent the vast majority of blockages and overflows.”

The City had more than 9000km of sewer pipes but only limited resources to maintain and repair them, she said.

Given the levels of sewer abuse, it was mostly impossible to check sewers and prevent potential blockages before they occurred, she said.

“We appeal to residents to please ensure that their behaviour is compliant with the City’s Wastewater and Effluent By-law, accepted by public representatives, which places responsibility on residents for ensuring they do not contribute to sewer blockages.”

Car bumpers, televisions, geysers, lawn mowers, furniture and sheep heads are some of the stranger things that have been pulled from the city’s sewers.

A combination of cooking fats, cloth rags and wet wipes flushed down the toilet causes the most common blockages.

Flexible objects and light solid objects flowed in the line but eventually got stuck in the pipe or in the manhole, which caused blockages, especially where fat had built up on the walls of pipes, as it acted like a glue, Ms Limberg said.

Heavier objects usually remained in the manhole.

It was very hard to trace offenders, Ms Limberg said. “So, to a large degree, communities need to self-police on this matter, and report this behaviour if they become aware of it.”

The majority of blockages across the city were caused by the misuse of the sewer system, she said.

“Unfortunately we will continue to experience blockages and overflows until the culture of dumping foreign objects in the sewers stops.”

Report blockages by calling 086 010 3089 (choose option 2). Or SMS 31373; email water@capetown,gov.za; or visit www.capetown.gov.za/servicerequests/.