Growing health fears and wildlife flee the once pristine valley as regular spills pollute the river
Sewage spills in the Baakens River are damaging one of Port Elizabeth’s most valuable natural assets, raising concerns over the health and safety of residents and wildlife living in close proximity to the valley.
Despite municipal officials patrolling the Baakens Valley on a regular basis, conservation groups are still reporting major sewage spills, while animal control specialists have their hands full with wild animals fleeing from the valley and seeking refuge in residential areas.
Baakens Valley Preservation Trust member Vince Jearey moved to Sunridge Park more than 30 years ago and has witnessed the Baakens River steadily deteriorating.
“At first, there was some pollution – some illegal dumping, sewage spills, that kind of thing – but nothing too rough,” he said.
“But, in recent years, it has become worse and I fear we are causing irreparable damage to this beautiful natural resource of ours.”
Jearey, who walks along a stretch of the Baakens near Sunridge at least once a week, said he often found raw sewage flowing down the river.
He recalled a particularly bad incident in March when sewage was flowing from a municipal pump station in the valley.
“There was so much sewage and contaminated water flowing into the river that it actually elevated the water level of the river. The smell was unbearable,” he said.
The trust believes over-development along the valley, and ageing infrastructure unable to carry the increased load, is to blame for the regular pollution.
Wildline’s Arnold Slabbert shares the Preservation Trust’s concerns as he has seen a range of wildlife species disappear from the valley due to the deteriorating conditions.
He said he had his suspicions for a long time, but a recent trip into the valley, attempting to reunite a rescued juvenile otter with its mother near Sunridge last month, confirmed what he had feared.
“We rescued the otter from a garden in Sunridge and wanted to find its family,” Slabbert said.
“I was disgusted by what I found in the valley.
“It started making sense why we see fewer and fewer wild animals around the Baakens River, and why more animals are caught in the suburbs as they try to escape the pollution.”
Besides the young otter he rescued, Slabbert also caught an adult otter in Newton Park earlier this year, rescued a blue duiker from a residence in Lorraine three weeks ago, and recovered a porcupine from a built-up section of Central Port Elizabeth on Thursday.
“The bad condition of the river, along with illegal dumping along the valley, is forcing the wildlife out of their habitat and into the suburbs,” he said.
“You used to find fish and crabs along the river, as well as a range of birds nesting in the trees, but even those have disappeared over time.”
Further down river, resident Pieter Human, who has lived at the bottom of Target Kloof for 14 years, said he was concerned about his family’s health as the Baakens River runs past their home.
“At one stage we had sewage spills near our house almost on a monthly basis, and sometimes the river would turn black from all the pollution. One time we had a spill running for a week,” he said.
Municipal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said officials of the municipality’s infrastructure and engineering directorate had been notified of the sewage spills in the Baakens Valley and inspections at the affected pump-station in Sunridge and along the valley were being conducted.
“These spills could be caused by blockages in the sewer system due to foreign objects being dumped into the system or tree roots intruding into the pipes,” Mniki said.
He said track inspection teams are sent into the Baakens Valley every two weeks to check on the sewer system for any spills, and sewage pumps are checked daily for mechanical or electrical failure.
“Any spillage into a river or natural water cause is a high priority, and as soon as we become aware of any problems a team is dispatched to identify the cause of the problem, and remedial action is then carried out,” Mniki said.