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State of eThekwini rivers dire after sewage spills

Workers at a site where one of the main sewerage pipes broke at Prince Mhlangana road in Riverhorse Valley, Durban yesterday. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA)

Workers at a site where one of the main sewerage pipes broke at Prince Mhlangana road in Riverhorse Valley, Durban yesterday. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 20, 2022

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DURBAN - EXTENSIVE damage to wastewater treatment plants during the floods has led to massive contamination of rivers across eThekwini Municipality.

The state of Durban’s rivers is so dire that only one river in eThekwini still has good water quality. This is according to a preliminary report on the storm damage tabled on Wednesday before a special full council meeting.

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City official Bongumusa Zondo, who heads the task team leading the recovery efforts, said the damage to the wastewater infrastructure was having a devastating effect.

“We are dealing with many issues of wastewater treatment plants that are at red (danger). They do not receive the flow that they normally would have received prior to the storm because the trunks are damaged, and waste is found in areas where it should not be prior to treatment,” he said.

The report showed that nine wastewater treatment plants had been negatively affected.

Zondo said that as a result, there had been pollution in the rivers. The report said few rivers were in the green (acceptable level), and most rivers were in the red, with the most affected rivers being in uMbilo, Umkhumbane, uMngeni, Isipingo and uThongathi.

“River water quality decline can be clearly seen. This is due to flood damage to the sewerage infrastructure, broken or blocked sewerage lines, overflowing pump stations and sewage discharged directly into the watercourse,” it said.

Zondo said the issue had been “highly prioritised” and work was being done to stop the leaks. However millions of rand are needed. At the uMbilo wastewater plant, for instance, the council would need close to R40 million for repair work.

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The report showed that the municipality would need close to R72m just to repair the damage to pipes; it currently has close to R37m for the project, and there is a shortfall of R35m.

However, Zondo said work was being done to tackle the issue.

“It’s not all doom and gloom, there is some work being done by eThekwini, we are reprioritising our own money so we can attend to this.”

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This was reiterated by deputy mayor Philani Mavundla, who has been visiting the disaster areas. He visited the site of the damaged sewerage pipe in Prince Mhlangana Road in Riverhorse Valley.

“We can announce that the contractor is now in place to fix the pipe, and we expect to be receiving more supplies by the weekend,” said Mavundla.

DA councillor Nicole Graham said her party had lodged a formal complaint with the National Department of Water and Sanitation over eThekwini’s handling of the wastewater networks.

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“It has taken the eThekwini Municipality 34 days to get the first contractor on site to repair just one of the city’s major wastewater network damages – the broken northern trunk main in Prince Mhlangana Road.

“The rest of the major faults have not yet been attended to, resulting in millions of litres of raw sewage flooding into waterways, rivers, groundwater and the ocean. In simple terms, the sewerage system is so devastated that the waste is being lost before it can be treated,” she said.

Environmentalist Desmond D’Sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance said it would be disingenuous of the city officials to blame the pollution on the floods, saying the pollution problem had been ongoing for years.

He said the floods had merely exacerbated an existing problem which was due to lack of maintenance and skilled staff.

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