The lower Mngeni river is so polluted there are fears it may close Durban’s beaches.
The lower Mngeni river is so polluted there are fears it may close Durban’s beaches.

Durban beaches, rivers living on borrowed time is sewerage crisis not resolved

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Sep 18, 2021

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Durban’s sewerage system crisis “too big for city to handle”

If Durban’s sewerage infrastructure crisis is not turned around, most of the city’s rivers and many of its beaches will be closed for recreational use in the next five years.

This, according to Steve Cohen, a veteran canoeist and founder of the advocacy group Durbanites Against Plastic Pollution (DAPP).

“All the indicators around the health of our environment are declining,” he told the Independent on Saturday, stressing that the problem of ageing and inadequate infrastructure, poor maintenance and administration was too big for the city.

“We really think the municipality is facing a major problem that it may not be able to address on its own and we call on the national government to get involved.”

Cohen said it also warranted the attention of the Green Scorpions and, through their findings, to have national authorities institute the necessary civil and criminal actions.

Dissatisfied with the vagueness of municipal water testing, DAPP is working with Adopt-a-River to implement a citizen-based water monitoring project in the Lower Mgeni, which includes Blue Lagoon, to try to collate their own evidence about the water quality. This could be used as evidence for advocacy and accountability work.

“We’ll be testing the water quality weekly, using an accredited laboratory at two or three sites with funding donated from community members and people who use the river,” said Cohen.

Adopt-a-River’s Janet Simpkins, whose organisation is a custodian of the river, did not foresee there being an easy fix in an environment heavy with bureaucracy.

Canoeists are avoiding “clumps and lumps” of sewage outflow that spill into the Mgeni during frequent breakdowns at wastewater treatment plants and pump stations.

Joanna Road installation, close to an informal settlement, is reportedly particularly problematic because its illegal electricity connection had been attached to its infrastructure.

Staff trying to fix it have allegedly, even been shot at.

Geremy Cliff of the Kingfisher Canoe Club, said races were planned to take place close to the mouth and at high tide, to ensure that paddlers were in areas of water with maximum dilution of sewage.

Former Dusi winner Tim Cornish said it was hard to pinpoint the source in every case because the direction of the flow changed with the tide.

“But the Mgeni has been smelling like it had sewage in it quite frequently over the past three weeks.”

Wessa KZN region’s Margaret Burger said the smell on Riverside Road in Umgeni Park, between Thames and Browns Drift roads, was so bad, even motorists were noticing it.

She said the consequence of sewage outfall was devastating to all river users, recreational or subsistence.

“The extreme of ecological collapse is only noticed with fish die-off. However, there is a process of slow violence we don’t notice but urgently need to address.”

She pointed out that service delivery should include monitoring and reporting and access to the public for complaints.

Last week, the Independent on Saturday reported that Battery Beach had been closed for water testing and that about 20 children had fallen ill after swimming in it. It remained closed this week.

eThekwini Municipality spokesman Msawakhe Mayisela, said once the test results were back, the municipality would communicate with the public.

“We fully understand the inconvenience this unfortunate situation has created. We also appreciate the interest on this matter but we request to be given a space to deal with this matter as handling it negligently could create a dangerous state of affairs to our residents and tourists.”

On the Blue Lagoon matter, he said: “Thank you for bringing the matter to our attention. The matter has been reported to the relevant Department and tests will be conducted at Blue Lagoon. We are not aware of the tests being referred to by the complainants.”

The Independent on Saturday

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