Scientist denied access to water quality data

30 June 2011

Some months ago I suggested in this forum a use for the now defunct Athlone Power Station in Cape Town.  This centered on using the massive complex for treating the effluent from the adjacent Athlone Sewage Works to a much higher quality.  In associated correspondence I expressed the opinion that the Athlone works was one, if not the poorest, performing treatment works in Cape Town.  In this regard I need to point out that I worked for the City as Hydrobiologist for a decade and have a fair idea as to which sewage plants are better than others.

Recently I needed and asked for data to follow-up on the removal of P from detergents issue.  Yesterday, I learnt that the department that manages wastewater treatment ignored the constructive suggestion that I made and instead took offence to my opinion on the treatment ability of their Athlone works. Their (not communicated to me) response to this was to instruct the Directorate of Scientific Services that I be denied access to data, gathered in the public interest using ratepayers money I might add!

Apparently the City’s counter to my opinion was to the effect that “the [Athlone] works have been significantly upgraded since Dr Harding’s association with WWTW during his service in the employ of the City.”  While this may be true, it says absolutely nothing about how well the works is doing its job or how it compares to other treatment plants.  It also completely ignores what my suggestion was about.  No matter how well the works has been upgraded, it is still degrading the Black River.

Something is VERY wrong with this situation and the denial of access to information is a huge blight on our Society.  The City of Cape Town used to publish annual reports that detailed a myriad of performance data – sadly no longer made available.

If the managers at the City’s wastewater department were so affronted with my opinion, why could someone not just pick up a phone and discuss the matter with me and enlighten me further re the ‘significant upgrade’.  Why adopt the now classic Water Affairs approach of ignoring perceived criticism??  Why do public servants assume that they can do this sort of thing at all, as opposed to being open and honest?

I am addressing this incident to Mayor de Lille’s office in the hope that some sanity will prevail somewhere in the system.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *