The apparent sewage water was being pumped through two pipes that flow into the stormwater drain outside the station, and the water is then emitted into the river.
Ward councillor Shaun Ryley said: “We found raw sewage flowing directly into the river. We inspected it further and found that at the pump station they’re pumping the matter through the sewage mains,” he said.
This latest incident comes in the wake of numerous reports of sewage spills and river pollution in and around KwaZulu-Natal in the past six months.
Last week, The Mercury reported that a main had burst at a pump station in Blackburn Village in Durban North, leading to a spill into the uMhlanga Lagoon and Ohlange River.
Also last week, the city confirmed there had been elevated levels of mercury in the Umngcwini stream. This comes after a fire broke out recently at a factory in Cato Ridge.
Last month, more than 200 tons of oil and caustic soda leaked into the Msunduzi River.
In May, a failure of pumps at the Mahatma Gandhi Pump Station led to at least 20% of the sewage flow discharging into the harbour at Lavender Creek along Victoria Embankment.
GroundWork environmental health campaign manager Rico Euripidou said the greatest risk of pumping untreated sewage into an aquatic environment from a public health perspective was the risk of very high E coli levels, which could cause myriad health problems.
“Furthermore, raw sewage usually results in toxic blooms of blue-green algae which can cause mass fish deaths as a result of oxygen depletion in the water. This will affect the overall ecology of the river and in extreme cases will wipe out just about all of the river’s ecology,” he said.
Euripidou said the incident highlighted a failure in the environmental regulatory and compliance system in South Africa.
Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa KZN chairperson and uMngeni Estuary Conservancy committee member, Margaret Burger, said the incident was very concerning.
“We’ve nurtured the river for the past 20 years as part of the local uMngeni Estuary Conservancy and several other stakeholders.
“We’re aghast at the total disregard for compliance in that the pump station on Riverside Road has openly been pumping waste into the estuary for the past three weeks. The concern has been raised at the Ward 36 Residents’ Association as well as through the ‘Save our Rivers’ campaign. The estuary is a sensitive area with the Beachwood Mangroves at the mouth as a distinct ecosystem,” she said.
Air Water chief executive Ray de Vries said the issues of river contamination could hinder the city’s attempts to acquire Blue Flag status.
According to a former municipal engineer, the city was unable to cope with the rapid rate of urbanisation, putting its underground infrastructure under severe pressure.
He said the city’s growing population and failure to maintain and upgrade infrastructure also posed a major threat.
The man, who asked not to be named, said the city’s infrastructure was more than 50 years old.
“Often you find that there are issues with stormwater drains, but it’s only when there’s a major flood or a blockage that sewage overflows,” he said.
He said the mushrooming of informal settlements also led to an increase in issues with stormwater drains.
“Residents aren’t properly educated about stormwater drains and they throw all sorts of items into these drains. This can cause massive blocks. The city needs to regularly inspect stormwater drains,” he said.
City spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said it was not raw sewage that was pumped into the stormwater drainage system.
Mayisela said he would visit the site today for a full inspection, but based on the information at “my disposal the information that has been released is not true”.
“The city is hard at work increasing the capacity of a sewer. By the end of today, the matter will be fixed. We apologise for the inconvenience caused.”