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Sewage flowing into Umbilo River after treatment works damaged

The road leading to the Umbilo Wastewater Treatment Works in Northdene had been washed away during the April 2022 floods. The treatment works was also damaged leading to raw sewerage flowing into the Umbilo River. Picture: Melanie Brauteseth

The road leading to the Umbilo Wastewater Treatment Works in Northdene had been washed away during the April 2022 floods. The treatment works was also damaged leading to raw sewerage flowing into the Umbilo River. Picture: Melanie Brauteseth

Published May 16, 2022

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Durban - Damage to the eThekwini Umbilo wastewater treatment works during the April flooding has led to sewage flowing into the Umbilo River.

The facility was cut off because the roads leading to it were destroyed by the flood. A makeshift road through a park is being used by officials to enter the site and restore it.

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DA councillor Melanie Brauteseth said she was concerned about the environmental impact caused by the destruction at the waterworks.

Brauteseth, with members of the SANDF and road officials, recently conducted an oversight inspection.

“Access was only recently gained when a steep trail was cut through the bush to the plant. The sight that greeted the delegation was one of utter devastation. The roads servicing the plant have been completely destroyed in four locations, and the entire lower portion of the waterworks has been washed away by the Umbilo River,” she said.

The road leading to the Umbilo Wastewater Treatment Works in Northdene was washed away during the April floods. The treatment works was also damaged, leading to raw sewage flowing into the Umbilo River. Picture: Melanie Brauteseth

Brauteseth said this had allowed sewage to be pumped freely into the Umbilo River, which made it a toxic cesspool.

“A bacterial overload will occur and will lead to consequences such as an algae bloom, with the resultant oxygen starvation of all living organisms in the river course.

“To make matters worse, the persistent water outages prevalent in eThekwini will force desperate communities to source water from these toxic water courses. This will inevitably lead to a potentially deadly outbreak,” she said.

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Brauteseth said the floods had stretched municipal resources to the limit, but there was no excuse for a lack of intervention by the national Department of Water and Sanitation to mitigate against this human rights crisis.

Part of the Umbilo Wastewater Treatment Works in Northdene had been washed away during the April 2022 floods leading to raw sewage flowing into the Umbilo River. Picture: Melanie Brauteseth

Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu addressed President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday at the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry meeting in Durban. He said there were challenges in the eThekwini Municipality which had neither the money nor the capacity to carry out some of the repairs to the damaged infrastructure.

“The infrastructure is not just ageing. It has aged to a large extent, far beyond its useful age. We have a crisis brought about by the floods. We meet weekly to discuss issues. We identified hot spots. One of the problems is pollution, and it is a concern we are dealing with,” Mchunu said.

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The deputy mayor of eThekwini Municipality, Philani Mavundla, stated that 80% of the province’s sewer plants had been damaged by the floods.

MEC for Economic Development, Ravi Pillay, informed Ramaphosa that businessman Gavin Strydom had R7 billion worth of investments that were held up due to the sanitation incapacity of the sewer treatment plants.

Strydom, however, wanted to know if the government was going to build bigger plants to cope with the expected growth.

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