Concerns over eThekwini’s wastewater plants

The eThekwini water and sanitation sewer infrastructure is in desperate need of refurbishment and replacement.

The eThekwini water and sanitation sewer infrastructure is in desperate need of refurbishment and replacement.

Published Mar 12, 2024


The annual report of the eThekwini Municipality has painted a damning picture of the municipality’s wastewater treatment works (WWTW) plants, revealing that many are not licensed, leading to a risk of polluting the environment.

The plants are supposed to be licensed by the Department of Water and Sanitation. The licence is only granted if the plants comply with certain standards and do not pollute the environment.

The City’s annual report for the 2022-2023 financial year was published recently.

The municipality said issues around the licensing of its plants was a lengthy process and it is being attended to.

Under the Trading Services unit, which has oversight over water, sanitation and electricity functions, among others, the City spells out a number of challenges faced by the unit. These include infrastructure that is fragile either because of age or damage that was caused by the storms.

Speaking of the challenges faced by the unit, especially the WWTW, it said: “WWTW are in a very poor state, and many remain unlicensed. This is polluting the environment and constraining development.”

As a solution, it said “the infrastructure surcharge is set to raise R1 billion to fund functional repairs. Operations to increase proactive maintenance and compliance.”

The concerns about WWTW were first raised by then-deputy mayor Philani Mavundla. At the time, he was the chairperson of the human settlements and infrastructure services committee, which had oversight over the trading services function.

Speaking to “The Mercury” on Monday, Mavundla said at the time he led the cluster, 24 out of 27 WWTW were not licensed.

In a report he compiled shortly after being appointed committee chairperson, he detailed the extent of the problems.

His report said critical infrastructure has been pushed to the brink of total collapse.

“The eThekwini water and sanitation sewer infrastructure is in desperate need of refurbishment and replacement. Due to lack of budget, the City has adopted a run to failure approach,” it said.

His report, compiled around 2022, details the problems fully. For instance, it found that the Verulam WWTW were unable to produce effluent of desired standard, resulting in non-compliance and exposing surrounding communities to health risks.

Mavundla’s report warns that the state of this infrastructure undermined development and economic opportunities for the metro.

Head of water and sanitation in eThekwini Ednick Msweli said 13 of the 27 WWTW are licensed.

The head of the unit said work is under way to upgrade and licence the others.

He said there are fewer than five treatment works that might still have a problem of pollution, adding that those were the ones that were damaged by the storm.

Msweli stressed that the Department of Water and Sanitation demands that for a WWTW to get a licence, it cannot be polluting the environment.

He added that the delays in getting licences for the remaining treatment works were not because they pose a pollution risk, but were due to the administrative process.

“If you are polluting, the department will definitely not give you a licence.

It is about moving from the old permits system that we had been using to using the system of licensing. It is a lengthy process as it requires inspection and involvement of consultants,” he said.

The annual report further spells out other challenges that are plaguing the water and sanitation unit.

It said the demands on the existing water and sewer network are growing, but the investments in the expansion, rehabilitation, maintenance and repairs of the system to meet the growing demands have been inadequate.

“The floods in April 2022 severely damaged the water and sanitation infrastructure in eThekwini, badly affecting water supply, sewer networks and wastewater treatment.

“As a result, there has been a significant increase in sewer spills, water leaks and unregulated connections which negatively affect the quality and reliability of services and the daily experience of the residents and businesses in eThekwini,” it said.

ActionSA councillor Alan Beesley said the party was deeply concerned that many WWTW were in poor condition, with some of them failing to be licensed with the necessary bodies.

The councillor said: “The impact of the poor conditions of these wastewater treatment works is that sewage continues to flow unabated into eThekwini's rivers and ultimately affects the quality of beach water. It is evident that the ANC-led municipality does not have the political will or competencies to fix this crisis.”

IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said they (councillors) discussed the matter some time ago.

“The officials said that these would be attended to but until today they have not been fixed. It shows they neither take it seriously nor respect their jobs.

“It can’t be that to date there are treatment works in poor condition and without licences. It’s a big concern to me. The question is if such reports keep emerging, what are the heads of the different units, the deputy city manager and the city managers doing?”

The Mercury