Scepticism rife after R911m allocated to ‘solve’ Vaal River pollution

Sewage water spills to Dlomo Dam in Sharpeville which locals use for drinking water, and also a feeder to the Vaal River. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Save is not optimistic of the department’s plans to solve the Vaal Dam’s solution issues, especially considering the long history of bad maintenance. 

The department of water and sanitation has allocated a further R911 million for the 2020/21 financial year, in a bid to solve pollution plaguing the Vaal River. 

A total of R1.2 billion, including the latest funds allocation, has been invested to clear sewage pollution in the river. Plans include building an additional wastewater treatment capacity, and pump stations. 

Advertisements for competent contractors to help in solving the Vaal River’s critical pollution crisis will be released in the coming weeks. Appointed contractors will therefore work throughout the festive season. 

Provided there are no community protests leading to work stoppages, and these have become more frequent in recent times, the department plans to launch module 6 in Sebokeng Water Care Works before the end of current financial year,“ the department said on Friday.

It said that delays within the department were due to “checks and balances” to “ensure compliance with procurement processes”. 

ALSO READ: WATCH: Rivers of raw sewage flowing into the rivers which provide your drinking water

Save the Vaal Environment (Save), an organisation in the area advocating for the curbing of pollution in the river, released a statement just last month, once again voicing their concern about raw or partially treated sewage spilling into the Vaal Dam. 

This spillage was from the Metsimaholo waste water treatment plant in Deneysville.

This is not only a serious health risk to residents of Refengkgotso because sewage is running between houses, but also an environmental criminal act,” said Save chairperson Malcolm Plant.

The Vaal Dam is currently at 30.2% full capacity. When the statement by Save was made in September, the dam was at 38% full capacity. Plant raised concerns that dwindling water supplies will likely be more contaminated by sewage. 

He added that the defunct Deneysville treatment plant was due for a R120 million refurbishment in 2016 by the department, but the work was never completed. 

Rand Water’s water quality report in the Vaal Barrage Reservoir shows E.Coli counts at sample point nine, which is near Village Manor and Lochvaal Club in Vanderbijlpark, as being 111 990 per 100ml – way above the idea 130 counts per 100ml.

This indicates a high risk of gastrointestinal disorders, with the risk of skin irritations and infections, if water at this points ingested. 

Save vice-chairperson Maureen Stewart is not optimistic of the department’s plans to solve the Vaal Dam’s solution issues, especially considering the long history of bad maintenance. 

Stewart referred to Ekurhuleni Water Care Company’s (ERWAT) contract to fix three wastewater treatment plants and 44 pump stations in April last year. ERWAT’s contract ended in June this year, and has not been renewed. 

She said ERWAT merely unblocked pipes, but did not repair the rest of the system, resulting in increased sewage pollution. 

“Nobody talks about start and end dates. No timelines are considered at all. Nothing happens; it’s all talk, and that’s the big issue. In the meantime, there is sewage everywhere. The quality of water in the river is disgusting to say the least,” she said.

“Unfortunately, [Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation] Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s drive and good intentions did not translate into action on the ground.” 

Save is also heading to court after giving ERWAT six months to respond to their complaints regarding the lack of work done to repair treatment plants and pump stations in the Vaal River region. 

Stewart estimates that in total, the Vaal River system would take at least five years to be free of pollution, but that would only happen if the Emfuleni Municipality, new contractors, Rand Water, the department and all other parties involved commit to consistent maintenance, monitoring and upgrades. 

Stewart said Save was concerned that with the amount of low-cost housing projects under way in Gauteng, coupled with population booms, the overloaded system meant to service all residents would become even more constrained. 

“The bigger picture is to create bigger capacity to cope with constant development,” she said. 

She added that government needed to address daily Eskom load rotation in Emfuleni, and the lack of back-up power for treatment plants and pump stations. 

“Tenders for work packages which should have been advertised in July are still languishing on someone’s desk at the department’s offices,” she said.

“This is at a time when the South African economy is crying out for infrastructural projects and jobs. The Vaal River and its tributaries, the Rietspruit and Klip Rivers, are more polluted than ever.”

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