Durban — A local environmental awareness group says pollution levels in the Msunduzi River should be a concern for everyone.
While there is still time to ensure that the Dusi Umgeni Canoe Marathon goes ahead without any health risks for the paddlers, it is the “tone deaf stance” of authorities that is worrying the group.
Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct) chairperson, Dave Still said they had written to the authorities months ago, about the higher than normal E.coli levels in the last two years, but had not received any response from the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS).
Still is also the convener of the uMsunduzi River Crisis Committee, a body made up of several organisations advocating for a cleaner river ecosystem, which they insist is continually degrading because of pollution, and if left unguarded, poses a health risk in the long term.
They sent a 15-page report with a snapshot of the pollution levels and the affected areas to the department.
The correspondence called for urgent, comprehensive and sustained intervention to reduce sewage pollution in Pietermaritzburg.
“I received no response. I was disappointed, but not surprised. DWS is trying to deal with failing municipal water supply and sanitation systems all over the country and clearly they are overwhelmed. Even so, a simple acknowledgement and a promise to engage would have been appreciated and it is the least they could have done,” said Still.
According to him, as the water supply in Pietermaritzburg came from Midmar Dam which was good quality water and properly treated, potable water was still safe to drink.
“Apart from the impact on our environment, the risk is to farmers who use the water for irrigating food crops, and to recreational users (children swimming, canoeists, fishermen and so on).”
He noted that the Dusi Canoe Marathon was still six weeks away, with the first paddling only starting after the Campbell’s portage, providing a buffer of about 20km of river between the old start and the first river contact. This afforded significant protection to the paddlers because water quality improved as one moved further from the source of the pollution.
“However, the Msunduzi municipality should still be making a special effort to fix the major sewage spills which have been going for months, and sometimes years, all of which are well known to them.
“The Dusi Canoe Marathon is one of the three major endurance sporting events for which Pietermaritzburg is famous, and it is in the interests of the city to preserve that heritage,” Still said.
He pointed out that there was still room for a turnaround but stressed this would require a lot of will from the authorities.
Msunduzi Municipality city manager Lulamile Mapholoba conceded there were challenges with pollution on Msunduzi River, but insisted they were working on it. The effort, he added, involved working with environmental groups and replacing high-pressure cleaners because the two they were using were old and unreliable which had forced them to hire one.
He said the city had received a quote for a new pressure cleaner and were awaiting the fleet department to assist with the order.
Mapholoba said they were working hard to deal with the pollution problem as authorities, but it was equally important for citizens to be responsible, especially about what they dumped in rivers.
“A lot of the pollution can also be attributed to waste being dumped in river systems and leaching into the system and increasing E.coli levels. Where people discharge their domestic grey water into their stormwater systems at home or internally on their properties, we cannot pick it up until it enters the streams,” he said.
He appealed to people to refrain from dumping anything in river streams. He said this affected water quality and impacted on the lives of other people who rely on Msunduzi as a source of livelihood, from agriculture to livestock breeding.