So much so there two online petitions pleading for a stop for to the construction. One petition had more than 20 000 names while the other had more than 3000.
“Right now a massive pipeline is being built to send raw sewage gushing into the Vaal dam,” stated the one.
The other stated “The raw sewage pipe is for a massive settlement called Refengkhotso. This sewerage waste will be pumped directly into the Vaal Dam causing major contamination to humans and all wildlife in this massive area of water”.
The project is the brainchild of the Metsimaholo local municipality in the Free State. However, no need to panic yet, said government.
“It is not raw sewage, it is treated effluent,” Department of Water and Sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau told 702 Radio yesterday.
He said after the department became aware of the project and an inspection found construction of the pipeline was right through a wetland.
It also found there was no authorisation from the department for the discharge to be in the Vaal Dam nor was there permission for the pipeline to go through a wetland.
“When we heard the pipe was going through a wetland, we had to stop it because a wetland is a protected area. The municipality then wanted to run the pipe along the road but because we had not received an application we did not give them authorisation,” Ratau said.
DA MPL James Letuka confirmed construction had stopped however added the local sewerage plant was unable to meet the municipality’s needs. “As a result surrounding areas are overflowing with raw sewerage. This poses a serious environmental and health risk.”
He said he had written to MEC of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Matawana Mlamleli, “who did not bother to reply to me.”
Nor did her department reply to The Citizen queries. Still, there is a policy document entitled Norms & Standards for Quality Water Services, which falls under the ambit of the now defunct Department of Water and Forestry. So whoever is enforcing the policy is anyone’s guess.
And it’s not like we can afford to mess with the Vaal anymore.
“There are collieries upstream from the dam which impact negatively on its water quality,” said expert Garfield Krige of African Environmental Development, a company concentrating on water management and hydrology.
“The Vaal Dam also receives water from the Lesotho Highlands which keeps on diluting whatever comes down the river.” These, said Krige, would include metals and acids from acid mine drainage.
“We are not doing much to protect our rivers in general,” said Krige.
Mike Bailie is a campaigner at Avaaz – a global organisation which works on a range of issues from democracy and human rights to the environment and social justice, said on Thursday it had nearly 25 000 South Africans who have signed its petition. “And we are working with local residents on how we can permanently end the project,” said Bailie.
He said there are fears that although the pipeline is suspended at the moment, it could be resumed when things quieten down.