City of Cape Town still ignores the Dieprivier stink

OUTA finds that the City of Cape Town ignores sewage spills from Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works, and that the City has misled the council and the Green Scorpions about communicating with OUTA.

02/12/2020 11:44:15

City of Cape Town still ignores Dieprivier stink


New evidence uncovered by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse’s independent testing of water in the Dieprivier system raises more questions about the City of Cape Town’s competence in managing effluent discharge at Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW).

“What is very concerning, and borders on criminal, is that water samples taken during our independent water testing at Potsdam WWTW on 18 November show an E Coli level of 8.4 million parts per 100ml, which is extremely high.

The test was taken at one of OUTA’s well-documented sampling points, called PDZ, which was brought to the City’s attention on numerous occasions,” says OUTA’s Senior Legal Project Manager, Andrea Korff.

OUTA informed the City of Cape Town of its findings and the explanation from the City is that the embankment became saturated with water and collapsed. However, highly contaminated discharge has been observed and documented as flowing from this point on multiple occasions and was even pointed out to the Western Cape Government’s Green Scorpions during a July 2020 visit to the Potsdam WWTW, which is managed by the City.

“We do not know whether the City is deliberately covering up or is just plain incompetent in its management of the WWTW. This and similar discharge points are in remote parts of the plant or are hidden by overgrown vegetation, and these discharge points are apparently unknown to the WWTW’s management and staff, whilst being easily smelt by third parties,” says Korff.

Since the beginning of 2020, OUTA has been sampling water at strategic sampling points along the Dieprivier Estuary, which includes the Milnerton Lagoon. Time and time again OUTA’s water results have confirmed that one of the major culprits in the pollution is the Potsdam WWTW.

In recent months, the City has claimed that the discharge from Potsdam WWTW is well within the proper guidelines and has stated that the WWTW shows a "remarkable turnaround". OUTA believes that it is pointless to claim excellent results on the treated effluent, whilst these “unofficial” highly contaminated discharge points continue to pollute the environment.

The problem is with discharge from points which the City does not appear to have noticed or is deliberately ignoring. The City appears to be testing water only from official discharge points, which is treated water, not at any of the leak sites, which release untreated sewage into the river. OUTA has raised this issue previously, as the City is responsible for ensuring that all wastewater discharged into the river meets the standards of the City’s water-use licence.

On 21 September 2020, the Western Cape Government’s Directorate: Environmental Law Enforcement (the Green Scorpions) issued the City of Cape Town with a directive, ordering it to remedy the state of the lagoon. Failure to comply is a criminal offence.

On 20 October 2020, the City lodged an appeal against the terms and timelines in the directive. MEC Anton Bredell must decide on the merits of the City’s appeal and has undertaken to do so within 60 days.

“In light of the new evidence gathered and submitted to the Green Scorpions, we call on MEC Bredell to apply his mind when making his decision. This incompetence from the City of Cape Town has been going on long enough and we urge the MEC to hold the city to account for its blatant disregard for the environment,” says Korff.

OUTA has found that the City has misled the council and the Green Scorpions about its engagements with OUTA. In a council meeting on 29 October, Cape Town mayor Dan Plato told the council that he had invited OUTA to visit the Potsdam WWTW but that “OUTA did not accept the invitation”. (The relevant extract from the City of Cape Town council meeting minutes is here.) The reality is that OUTA has never received such an invitation from Plato or the City.

OUTA understands that the City has told the Green Scorpions that the City is communicating with OUTA; however, OUTA has been unable to get responses from the City to correspondence or even to an application under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) for information on this issue.

OUTA will continue to monitor the water quality being discharged within the Dieprivier Estuary and will continue to apply pressure on authorities.


The 23 November 2020 report on water sampled on 18 November 2020 is here.

A soundclip (2:57) with comment from Andrea Korff is here.


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