Bid to stop Vaal River sewage spills
Publish date: 11 September 2018
Issue Number: 573
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Government action to repair damaged Gauteng sewerage infrastructure has opened up a chance for the rehabilitation of the province's badly polluted rivers, but there is still a way to go, writes Legalbrief. Just 30% of the troubled Emfuleni local municipality’s 46 pump stations are functional, causing major raw sewage spillages into the Vaal River system. The municipality, which has been placed under administration, says it was ‘faced with increased financial challenges which affect service delivery departments, particularly water and sanitation’, according to a report on the IoL site. ‘Due to shortage of vehicles, we are unable to attend to all stations on a daily basis,’ said municipality spokesperson Stanley Gaba, referring to the repossession of the municipal fleet last month. He blamed ‘ageing’ water and sanitation infrastructure for the frequency of sewer spillages, blockages, pump station breakdowns, water leaks and pipe bursts, which were ‘at a high rate’. The municipality had now received a R20m grant from the Department of Water and Sanitation to upgrade pump stations to improve their functionality. ‘This work will stop sewer spillages into the water systems, but it must be noted that the completion of the Sedibeng Regional Sewer Scheme is the ultimate resolution in Emfuleni and surrounding areas,’ said Gaba. The scheme was supposed to have started in 2007/8. A part of the grant, he said, would be used to rehabilitate pump stations in the Sebokeng Waste Water Care Works following weeks of protests. ‘All the work to re-capacitate pump stations is aimed at ceasing the recent sewer spillages into what is known to be the third-largest river in SA, the Vaal River,’ he noted.
The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is to hold a formal inquiry into the spillage of toxic effluent into the Vaal River. TimesLIVE says an ecological disaster has unfolded as raw sewage and industrial pollutants flow into parts of the river. Responding to complaints by people and communities living nearby, the commission conducted an inspection to assess the state of the river last week. 'What we saw gave credence to allegations that have been made by residents that there is sewage spillage in the Vaal River,' Gauteng provincial manager of the commission, Buang Jones, reportedly told radio 702 last week. 'Some of the key concerns is that the pollution emanates from wastewater works which have been poorly managed by the Emfuleni Municipality. We've also seen that toxic effluent emanates from industry; from a nearby Sasol plant in the Vaal area, so we are going to initiate a formal inquiry to look into all these issues,' he said. The decision to hold a formal inquiry was taken because the pollution had a direct bearing on a number of rights under the Constitution, including the right to access clean water, and may contravene legislation related to water. Jones said the commission would hold the relevant authorities accountable, from municipal level to provincial level, as well as industries implicated in the pollution.
Following violent protests over the poor quality of drinking water in Hammanskraal, the City of Tshwane said last week the water supply has improved and it has withdrawn water tankers from the area. According to a report in The Citizen, the SAHRC had intervened in the ‘dirty water’ saga two months ago after residents laid complaints with the commission over unsafe drinking water. The commission then visited Hammanskraal to check on the water supply before proclaiming that there was a ‘prima facie violation’ of the residents’ rights to clean drinking water. A meeting was held with city officials and the provincial Water and Sanitation Department at SAHRC head office in Johannesburg, where officials promised to speed up the upgrading of the Temba water purification plant and restore clean water supply.
Informal settlements near water sources and a lack of by-law enforcement, infrastructure upkeep, and monitoring were put forward as the biggest contributors to water source contamination during the quarterly Crocodile Catchment Forum (CCF) meeting, notes a report in The Citizen. Representatives from irrigation boards, the Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA), the Kruger National Park, City of Mbombela, and other stakeholders gathered at the Crocodile Lapa to discuss issues surrounding the catchment’s water sources. During the presentation of the most recent water-quality status report, a spike in the E.coli levels in the Crocodile River in June was noted and could explain the recent diarrhoea outbreak. CCF chair Theo Dormehl told attendees that he believed the contamination was coming from informal settlements around the river. Several members mentioned that waste-water treatment works were often left unattended, which led to problems later. During discussions, it was revealed that the municipality is in the process of refurbishing the plants and that a licence had already been granted to construct a one-megalitre waste-water treatment plant next to the current one in Barberton. Dormehl said the CCF and stakeholders are installing probes throughout the catchment to monitor factors that indicate pollution. Readings are taken every 12 minutes and problems can be monitored in real time using the Internet. The CCF will meet in November to report back and see which need more intervention.