Flat out mess

Raw sewage flooded the area in front of residents doorsteps.

Sub-council 2 chairperson Grant Twigg has urged residents to refrain from putting unwanted objects and materials into their sewerage pipes which cause blockages and leave communities in a mess.

This comes after residents of Geneva flats in Scottsdene complained about raw sewage pooling in the doorways of their flats.

The number of reported blockages and overflows in the metropole has steadily risen over the previous two years, from an average of 293 a day in the 2015/2016 year to an average of 330 a day in the 2017/18 financial year with sewer blockages costing the City of Cape Town R270 million last year.

On Wednesday August 15, Northern News visited the Geneva flats and was greeted by a foul stench of human faeces.

According to the residents living in block A and C, the blockages were caused by an incorrectly installed plumbing system at their City-owned flats.

Resident Patricia Africa pointed to a brown watermark on her dining suite which she said came about after her flat flooded about a month ago with sewage which had pushed up from her toilet.

“Most of my things were damaged and I had to spend lots of money on detergents and cleaning equipment to get my place back to the state it was. I spent many hours at the City’s office but they did not listen to my concerns,” she said.

She said she visited the Kraaifontein municipal offices several times and was told that “someone will be sent out to clean”, but she said the cleaners arrived on two occasions but the problem persisted.

When the City of Cape Town and Mr Twigg were contacted about the situation at the Geneva flats, all emails went unanswered, however, on Tuesday August 21 it was confirmed that the sewer lines had been cleared.

According to Mr Twigg the sewer line was broken two and a half metres below the surface and in the process of clearing the sewer lines, he said tins, clothing items, sanitary towels, disposal nappies and newspapers were found which had caused the blockage.

Asked about the spill of sewage at the tenants’ doorsteps, Mr Twigg said, some tenants had turned off the cleaning eye, a pipe fitting with a removable plug which one can turn off when wanting to clean or do an inspection of the pipe, thinking it would solve a problem.

“The City’s staff has been unblocking that drain for some time now but will continue to monitor the flats. The housing office will conduct an information and training session with the tenants staying at those flats, educating them on the dos and don’ts and the dangers faced by blockages and overflowing,” he said.

In terms of the Wastewater and Industrial Effluent By-law, no person may discharge substances into a municipal sewer that will interfere with the free flow of sewage. The sewer reticulation system is only geared to accept toilet waste (urine, faeces, and toilet paper) and sink/basin/bath waste (water, washing liquid and soap).

“Common causes of blockages include rags, nappies, tampons and sanitary pads, wet wipes, condoms, general litter, building materials and the build-up of cooking fat or oil. In the case of cooking oil or fats, when these substances are poured or flushed down your sink or drain, they harden and build up on the inside of the sewer pipes and act like glue, attracting rags, hair, paper and other debris,” said Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services; and energy. “The hardness of these blockages can also make them very difficult to clean out. Residents should rather please let grease cool and harden in the pan, and then scrape it along with any food scraps into some newspaper or paper towel and dispose of this in the kitchen bin.

“There is often an incorrect perception that recurring sewer overflows are due to faulty pipes or the lack of sewer maintenance, but I can assure you that this is hardly ever the case. The City cannot take up this challenge on its own. We call on our residents to help us to overcome this problem. We cannot do it without you,” said Ms Limberg.

Sewer overflows can be caused by stormwater entering the sewerage system, either due to illegal cross-connections on private properties, or missing manhole covers. The extra volume from stormwater flow during rainfall can sometimes exceed the capacity of the pipes and leads to, or exacerbates, overflows.

Missing or stolen manhole covers can also increase the chances of blockages and overflows, as they can act like a magnet for illegal dumping and litter.