Seeking solutions to river pollution

Part of the Black River, located next to Oude Molen Village.

The Kader Asmal Project has worked hard over the past three years to remove alien plants and pollution from the Black River, though they may need more support going forward.

Operating through the City of Cape Town’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), the project has received support from Plastics SA, an umbrella organisation that deals with plastic recycling and environmental awareness.

In a meeting called a fortnight ago in Maitland, various role-players came together to share ideas of how to decrease the pollution in the river.

The City of Cape Town, Plastics SA, researchers, Friends of the Liesbeek and Clean C were among those seeking solutions to the pollution of the river, which flows through suburbs including Athlone, Rondebosch, Pinelands and Observatory into the Table Bay.

Brett Herron, the City’s former mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said most of the pollution came from stormwater outlets and tributaries such as adjoining canals like Bokmakierie, Jakkalsvlei and Elsieskraal as well as the Vygieskraal River.

“It is here where high level of illegal dumping and littering take place. During heavy rains, all the rubbish and litter that is dumped into these outlets are flushed into the Black River,” said Mr Herron.

An innovation that has worked well for the EPWP and Plastics SA, is the use of water booms, which are made of recycled two-litre cool drink bottles and a net to collect more litter, debris and floating alien vegetation.

According to Mr Herron, the floating booms have been effective in trapping floating litter and they save teams working in the river a significant amount of time.

The rising water levels through increased rainfall has also resulted in more pollution and debris in the water.

UCT Master’s student Eleanor Weideman did research during the rainy season, between May and September, to determine how much litter was in the river and whether stormwater drains are acting as a source of litter into Table Bay and the Black River.

As part of her research, she placed nets over stormwater drains in Paarden Eiland, which flow into the Black River and on one rainy day in August, she caught approximately 1 600 pieces of litter, of which 75% was plastic.

“If you multiply that by the number of stormwater drains flowing into the river and the number of times it rains in a year, then you have a lot of plastic being pumped into the Black River,” said Ms Weideman.

Mr Herron said going forward, they would like to build more partnerships for the Kader Asmal Project to ensure its sustainability.

The Friends of the Liesbeek, who assist with monthly clean-ups of the Liesbeek River every month, will occasionally assist with the clean-ups of their neighbouring Black River if there is funding available.

Manager of Friends of the Liesbeek, Phil McClean said: “The single biggest challenge is finding funding to cover the costs.

“Getting people to volunteer in clean-ups used to be a challenge, but we have been doing it for long enough now to have a loyal band of regulars.”