Department blamed for Tshwane’s dirty water
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Pretoria - The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has been fingered as a contributor to the untreated raw sewage discharged from the wastewater treatment works into the rivers across the City of Tshwane.
This was according to the SA Human Rights Commission manager in Gauteng, Buang Jones, who hosted an inquiry into water quality at the rivers running through some parts of the municipality on Friday at Kameeldrift.
Rivers under the spotlight were Apies, Tolwane, Pienaar and Hennops, into which raw sewage flowed from wastewater treatment works.
Residents living near the rivers have for years complained about dirty water and the unbearable smell permeating the air.
Tshwane’s MMC for utility services and regional operations, Phillip Nel, said problems related to wastewater plants dated back to 2004, adding that at least R9.2 billion was needed to repair the deteriorating water infrastructure.
Jones blamed the department for the recurring problems under its watch as the water regulator, saying its “leniency” to Tshwane by not applying the law contributed to the problems.
In terms of the law any person responsible for polluting water is guilty of contravening any provision of subsection (1) of section 151 of the National Water Act, according to the department report submitted to the commission.
The guilty party is liable, on first conviction, to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or both a fine and imprisonment.
However, it transpired during the hearing that none of Tshwane managers had faced criminal charges for contravening the water act.
Jones said: “These issues didn’t come to the fore three weeks ago. How long can one engage? This disaster happened under your watch as the regulator.”
Senior manager at the department, Justice Maluleke, said forums were established in 2013 for stakeholders to engage on a quarterly basis about pollution incidents.
Jones said: “Has the regulator comprehended the claims that could arise as a result of abdication of responsibilities by being lenient? Because the law is there (and) you just needed to apply the law to the letter. I agree there must be constructive interactions but you must also see to it that the law is applied.”
Municipal head of utility services, Stephen Notoane, said he was unaware of any official in hot water for flouting the water act.
This was despite the ongoing problems at the wastewater plants such as Baviaanspoort, Klipgat, Sunderland Ridge and Rooiwal.
Maluleke blamed the City for non-compliance with directives issued by the department and not implementing action plans to improve the situation at the plants.
He said the department had a pending case against the City at the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, scheduled to be heard on March 8.
Water problems in Baviaanspoort were picked in 2016 while those in Rooiwal were noticed around 2010/11.
Maluleke said the Klipgat plant used to be one of the best plants in Tshwane before it was vandalised, sparking outcries from the farming community affected by the raw sewage discharged into Tolwane river.
There had been complaints about the continuous sewage sludge and solid waste flowing from Pienaar river into the Roodeplaat dam.
Advocate Hendrick van Staden, representing the community, said raw sewage caused air pollution and had bad economic ramifications.
People living near Roodeplaat dam can’t enjoy meals from outside their houses because of the bad smell in the air.
Farmers were hard hit by the situation as high nitrates found in the contaminated water burnt their crops.
Van Staden said farmers couldn’t sell their vegetables any more because the market was reluctant to buy produce “contaminated by the raw sewage”.
In 2019, he said, the City made a number of empty promises to do something about the problem.
The DWS report presented to the commission demonstrated that several notices and directives were previously issued to the municipality to improve conditions at the wastewater plants.
In one of the correspondence, the department accused the City of contradicting the water act by allowing pollution activities to happen unabated.
In 2016, the City was alerted to a pollution activity taking place at Tolwane river as a result of effluent discharged by Klipgat plant.
Theft of cables was a major contributor to the ineffective plant operation, but the city failed to repair raw sludge after it was requested by the department.
In 2019, the department raised concerns with the city regarding four wastewater plants – Rooiwal, Klipgat, Baviaanspoort and Sunderland Ridge.
The situation at the plants continued to worsen despite numerous site inspections by department officials.
Concerns were also expressed about Roodeplaat dam in 2016 after complaints that raw sewage overflowed into Pienaars River in Baviaanspoort, while also spilling into Roodeplaat dam.
Notoane said the municipality had started work to improve the situation at the plants.
The refurbishment at Baviaanspoort was started in October 2018 and was envisaged to be completed in April.
“The current refurbishment and upgrade project will resolve the challenge of solid or sludge discharge into Pienaars River and Roodeplaat dam,” he said.
Work to restore Sunderland Ridge balancing tank and refurbish Rooiwal is under way.
Notoane said the upgrade projects would “improve the confidence of the consumers and affected or interested stakeholders”.