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The stink about Durban’s water

Daily News logo Daily News 2023/01/15 Mervyn Naidoo

A water purification expert was in disbelief over the rate at which raw sewage made its way into tributaries and rivers around Durban and into the ocean, due to illegal dumping.

Many Durban beaches were forced to shut including during the December holidays, and there has also been doubts raised over the quality of the city’s potable water.

Pete Graham, the chief executive of Singakwazi Aid, a water purification public benefit organisation (PBO) and community upliftment specialist and an ActionSA interim provincial executive member, said illegal sewage dumping exacerbated an already bad situation.

Graham went on a fact-finding mission to an Umgeni River tributary under the Connaught Bridge, near Durban North last week.

In a subsequent video he made public, Graham was stunned by the large quantity of “clumpy, raw sewage” found there.

He estimated that about 30 000 litres of sewage was afloat, a short distance from the Umgeni River, and suspected something odd had happened.

After consulting with a municipal engineer, he learnt that sewage pumps in the area were working. Therefore, it was likely the sewage was dumped illegally into the city’s stormwater drainage system.

Considering the volume of the deposits, it was possibly dumped by someone operating a “honey sucker”, a truck or vacuum tanker, equipped with a pneumatic pump to extract septic tank content.

Recently, there was huge social media reaction to a video showing staff from a company that rents out portable toilets, dumping sewage into a stormwater drain on the N2 South, near the Edwin Swales off-ramp.

Graham suggested industries with the potential to cause harm, like the ones that operate honey suckers, should pay a tax or an additional fee upfront to cover dumping.

“Whatever the solution, we need to monetise this.

“What price do we put on the closure of popular beaches in the city if we allow such things to happen?” Graham asked.

He said city officials needed to tighten dumping legislation and enforcement and expressed concern over the city’s ailing infrastructure.

“Infrastructure was poor before the floods and in many cases it was never fixed.

Raw sewage is still pouring into our rivers,” Graham said.

Mdu Nkosi, the IFP’s eThekwini chairperson, said illegal dumping of sewage needs to be condemned and culprits must receive harsher penalties.

Nkosi said the city also had to take a stricter stance on homeless people who use stormwater drains as their “wardrobes” and caused blockages.

He recommended awareness campaigns so citizens could learn about the consequences of their actions, like the devastation that resulted from blocked drains during April’s floods.

On the city’s infrastructure woes, Nkosi asked: “Where on earth is Cyril Ramaphosa and his promised R1 billion relief to KwaZulu-Natal?”

Similarly, he questioned the lack of action taken by the Premier of KwaZulu Natal, Nomusa Dube Ncube and Mxolisi Kaunda, eThekwini’s mayor, to hold the president accountable for his promised support.

“People were asking about the water at our beaches during the holidays. This will tarnish our image for a long time,” he warned.

Yogis Govender, a DA executive committee member, said they condemned the municipality’s handling of sewage spillages.

The city’s inability to manage and maintain wastewater treatment plans caused them to “condone or turn a blind-eye” to illegal dumping, she claimed.

She said the DA's investigations showed an alarming amount of spillages, which was tantamount to environmental crimes, human rights violations and ecological disasters.

“It is unfathomable how the city's leadership ignored the inhumane conditions people are living in, and the environmental damage,” she said.

Govender said the municipality recently revealed they needed about R128 billion to fix water and sanitation issues.

“But this may take between 33 years to 100 years to achieve. This is not what ratepayers deserve from a municipality that positions itself as a world-class city and tourist destination,” she said.

Msawakhe Mayisela, the municipality’s spokesperson, said they had five treatment plants with sufficient capacity to handle mobile effluent disposal at their sites by businesses.

He said that the city’s by-laws were adequate in addressing violations.

Regarding infrastructure and sewage spillages, he said the city put much effort into repairing damage that occurred during the floods.

“The focus of the work that is being done is around the sewer network and pump stations that were washed away and impacted beaches, which could also lead to contamination of the potable water supplies.

“The success was evident in the decrease in E Coli contamination levels and re-opening of most beaches,” he said.

Mayisela agreed much work was required on the rest of the infrastructure, including flood-damaged treatment plants.

“Consultants, who were appointed, have assessed damages and are finalising designs before we appoint contractors to deal with outstanding repairs and upgrades to the sewage infrastructure,” he said.


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