From grazing land to sewage works to recreational space: Delta Park
Delta Park, 104 hectares of open park land, is just 5 blocks from Liz at Lancaster. The area now known as Delta Park was part of the farm Klipfontein in the 19th Century. In 1902 it became a grazing area for cows as part of William Rattray’s estate. Delta Park as we now know it, owes its existence and its name to the expansion of Johannesburg’s sewage scheme during the 1930s when rural farmland on the outskirts of the city was transformed into the Delta Sewage Disposal Works.
Sewage disposal in early 20th Century Joburg
From 1906, Johannesburg’s southern suburbs were connected to a waterborne sewage system which was gravity fed through a network of huge underground sewers to a Council-owned farm at Klipspruit, in an area of what was to become Soweto.
The northern suburbs however, up until the mid 1930s, relied on French drains, open tanks and external lavatories with a bucket system. (Many of the sanitation lanes which provided access for the horse-drawn sanitation carts still survive in suburbs like Parkview).
When, in 1931, the Johannesburg City Council decided to implement a sewage system for these northern suburbs (north of Johannesburg but south of Sandton), they chose four sites in valleys that would allow gravity sewers to run from suburbs in the catchment areas of the rivers of the Witwatersrand. Neutral names (ie non suburb-specific) with classical connotations were chosen:
- Antea Works on the west dealt with sewage and industrial waste from Industria and drained via the Klein Jukskei into what is now New Canada and Fleurhof Dams.
- Bruma, in the east of Joburg, is now a shopping centre and lake (which it seems is now so polluted that is near reverting to its origins as a sewage plant) Bruma took domestic waste from the eastern suburbs of Observatory, Sandringham etc. into the main Jukskei River valley.
- Cydna, now the Melrose Bird Sanctuary, on the north-east of Johannesburg, served Houghton, Oaklands, Orchards, Norwood, Melrose and Illovo, draining into the Orange Grove Spruit which later joins the Sandspruit (which rises at a point near Louis Botha Ave) and eventually, the Braamfontein Spruit.
- Delta constructed to serve the suburbs of Parktown, Emmarentia, Auckland Park, Greenside, Parkhurst, Parkwood etc., was located on the small Delta Stream flowing into the Braamfontein Spruit. (This info from Jane Carruthers’ research on Delta Sewage works).
What made Delta different?
Delta was unique in two respects: the main works were housed in a single building (which is also a good example of Johannesburg Art Deco and now houses the Environmental Training Centre) and the method of sewage disposal was experimental at that time.
Delta Sewage works close in 1963 after the Northern Disposal Sewage started operating
It was not too long before it became clear that these sewage plants would not cope with the needs of Johannesburg’s rapidly increasing population. By the end of the Second World War expansion of Bruma, Cydna and Delta was not viable as they were surrounded by housing.
So the City Engineering department needed to look at establishing a larger plant to the north of what is now Sandton. However Northern Disposal works (at Diepsloot), with its huge pipeline which required both bridges and tunnelling to keep its gravity-feeding at the optimum, took a long time to build. (The luxury gated community gets its derogatory nickname of D[r]ainfern from its proximity to and outlook on this massive pipe-line.)
It was only in 1959 that the Northern Disposal Works began to accept any volume of sewage from the other treatment plants. Delta finally closed at the end of June 1963.
…… And now Delta Park home is used extensively by dog-walkers, joggers and runners.
- The first South African Parkrun (every Saturday at 8am) was started at Delta Park.
- The river rangers have their stables at Delta Park so horse-riders, (yes … horse riding in the middle of a Joburg suburban neighbourhood) are a common site.
- It’s very popular with mountain bikers as it forms part of the Braamfontein Spruit trail (recommended by UK Guardian readers in 2013 as on of the the top city cycle routes around the world …. that’s some accolade).
- Several cafés and eateries have sprung up on its edges to cater for hungry bikers and family groups. Delta Café is but one.
- There are bird hides and bird-watchers can enjoy some of 200 plus species on the Delta birding list. There is a pair of breeding spotted eagle owls who have a nesting box on a ledge of the Environmental Centre roof. Initially they only raised one chick in nine years as a result of inadequate natural nesting sites. Once a nest box was provided their success improved to 32 chicks in the next 11 years.
- For families with young children – there is a fabulous playground area
- Worshippers from the many independent churches worship in small groups on a Sunday (we can hear the drums and singing from Liz at Lancaster). Sometimes they go through the night on a Saturday. We love it up the hill as the faint sound of distant drums and singing is wonderful but for those living close-by, I think those are long nights indeed.
- Conference delegates, trainees and attendees at educational programmes run from the Environmental Centre.
- And yes, sadly there are many homeless people who live along the banks of the river.
So this important green lung has morphed over time to serve the community in many different ways.