Gearing up for court battle over water crisis

People gather seawater in uMhlanga, where beaches were recently closed because of high E coli counts. Picture: Duncan Guy

People gather seawater in uMhlanga, where beaches were recently closed because of high E coli counts. Picture: Duncan Guy

Published Jul 8, 2023


Durban - A civic initiative aimed at addressing Durban’s sewage pollution crisis is about to release an independently commissioned report after which it wants eThekwini Municipality to immediately implement corrective measures.

People involved in the non-profit Save our Rivers and Sea from Sewage (SORS-FS) will be finalising the report, compiled with the consultation of experts, to make it “court ready”.

“The organisation wants the city to implement corrective measures immediately, failing whichit will turn to the courts to force the city to act,” said director Johan Jooste.

Once the independent report is finalised, SORS-FS intends to make it public, engage with the municipality on its findings and report the sewage pollution to the relevant national and provincial government authorities to prompt corrective action.

“If necessary, (SORS-FS) will seek a court order compelling the city to address the issues highlighted in the independent report.

“We have to keep in mind that at any given point in seeking corrective action against the city, we may need to turn to a court and obtain an interdict to force action.

“This requires us to do everything we can beforehand to convince a court that our court action is not frivolous or without basis, but is built on solid evidence and in the interest of city residents,” said Jooste.

He said that after consultation with various stakeholders, SORS-FS decided to primarily focus on the Northern Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) along the Umgeni River for two key reasons.

“Firstly, it is one of the city’s largest sources of sewage pollution and secondly, its dysfunction has a direct and measurable impact on the city’s economy.

“If the Northern WWTW does not operate optimally 99.99% of time, the river and sea’s delicate eco-system will degrade and deteriorate to a state beyond recovery. Our seaside tourism sector from the Golden Mile to uMhlanga Rocks will collapse; the economy along the river will cease; the annual Dusi Canoe Marathon will stop because of safety concerns; our property values will decline; investors will stay away and tens of thousands of jobs will be put at risk and this excludes those jobs that could have been created.

“The Northern WWTW dysfunction presents a clear danger to our city’s economic future,” said Jooste.

eThekwini Municipality’s head of communications Lindiwe Khuzwayo said the city noted SORS-FS’s concerns and looked forward to getting their report once it was finalised.

“The Northern Treatment Works, which appears to be their primary focus, was partially recommissioned in December 2022 after the April 2022 flood event which resulted in severe damage to the treatment works,” she said.

“Consultants were appointed and have been working on the assessment and design reports. With these now complete, we are in the bid process to appoint a contractor to complete a significant part of the reconstruction work required to return the works to full functionality. This project could take up to three years or more, depending on the availability of funding.”

She said the work to be carried out would come at a significant cost, and funding would be a challenge.

“This should be covered by insurance. Some grant funding has also been made available.

“There are also very long lead times in terms of the procurement and delivery of specialised equipment from various parts of the world. This could lead to the project taking longer. This is beyond the control of the municipality because of the current international climate.”

The Independent on Saturday