PICS: Condition of the uMdloti River is an 'environmental disaster'

By NATHAN CRAIG Time of article published Feb 16, 2020

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Durban - It is an environmental disaster. That is how residents of Mount Moreland, on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast, have described the condition of the uMdloti River which is polluted with raw sewage.

The situation was so dire that the river has turned black.  

The residents said that water flowed from the Hazelmere Dam through the Verulam Wastewater Treatment Works, into the river and then to La Mercy Lagoon where people often swim.

Angie Wilken, the chairperson of the Mount Moreland Conservancy, said after lodging numerous complaints about the river’s pollution and a site visit to the Verulam Plant more than a year ago, she was devastated at its current state.

“The stench of raw human waste and chemicals are overwhelming. The water colour could only be described as a disgusting black-grey and the nearby rocks have turned white. This is the worst it has been in 35 years, things have just festered. Will the entire river just become sewage?”

Residents living along uMdloti river have expressed concerns over the state of the river. They say there is also a constant sewage smell that lingers in the air. Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)
Residents living along uMdloti river have expressed concerns over the state of the river. They say there is also a constant sewage smell that lingers in the air. Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)

Wilken said from her site visit, it was clear to her that the Wastewater Treatment Works was not capable of the required workload: “The infrastructure is antiquated and in the past we have been given the excuse that broken pipes are the cause of issues.”

She said water from Hazelmere Dam was an expected brown colour, but by the time it passed through the waste waterworks station, informal settlements and industrial parks, the water was inky black: “I walked into the river yesterday because I dropped my keys in it by accident, and when I got out of the riverm I saw the rubber underneath my boots was eaten away.”

Jennifer Beresford, a resident, said despite site visits from inspectors, laboratory results remained inconclusive.

“Inspectors have been sighted taking repeated samples. But we are concerned because we are unable to get test results due to internal problems. When we do get results, they say the water is fine, which cannot be true.” 

Aden Pontus, an honourary Ezemvelo officer and resident, said people used to kayak, fish and swim in the river. 

“Fish are unable to survive in the river and we have been told that they have actually been found dead and floating. There is something terribly wrong here and I wouldn’t dare dip my toe in the water.”

He said his mother’s silver wedding ring had corroded and turned bronze after it was exposed to the river’s water.

Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder said the Verulam Wastewater Treatment Works fell under the jurisdiction of the municipality.

“We are a water board and handle no wastewater treatment plants in Durban.”

Residents living along uMdloti river have expressed concerns over the state of the river. They say there is also a constant sewage smell that lingers in the air. Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)

The wastewater treatment works was tasked with the removal of contaminants from wastewater or sewage, which is converted to effluent that is returned to the water cycle.

Msawakhe Mayisela, the municipal spokesperson, said the matter would be tended to by the appropriate authorities.

“Under no circumstance is sewage allowed to pollute our rivers and the health of the environment is paramount. 

“I am not aware of the issues but given that complaints have been lodged, the necessary departments will take swift remedial actions. Investigations will be conducted into the issues.”

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Sunday Tribune

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