Umgeni Water woes

2008-04-19 00:00

Umgeni Water (UW), which supplies bulk water to the Msunduzi Municipality, is not meeting the standards required for the effluent that it discharges into local rivers.

UW owns and manages the Darvill wastewater works and operates the Howick works for uMngeni Municipality. It also tests water quality at these plants and in local rivers. A recent routine report shows that from December 2006 to January 2008, these plants did not fully meet the required standards for effluent.

These standards are part of the licence conditions the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (Dwaf) expects of UW. The Howick plant pumps treated water into the Umgeni River and Darvill into the Duzi. The report notes that Darvill’s “effluent compliance” dropped slightly from December 2007 to January 2008, while Howick’s improved from 62,5% to 68,8%.

In particular, the plants’ E.coli levels were higher than allowed. It was E.coli and associated disease-causing microbes that led to 45% of the participants in the 2008 Dusi canoe marathon falling sick.

River scientist and environmental consultant Dr Mark Graham said: “It’s totally unacceptable that not once in the last year has the water authority complied with the relevant standards. They can be achieved and they certainly used to be. It also means that Dwaf is not enforcing its own standards.

“Why have these plants been allowed to get to this state and why is Dwaf not holding the water authority to account … ?

“The increasing failure to meet standards is a result of the failure to maintain wastewater systems properly, as highlighted by a report commissioned by Dwaf. If the same situation occurred with drinking water resources, there would be an outcry. However, because these plants discharge into rivers and affect the environment, there appears to be no consequence.”

Umgeni Water provided compliance records for July 2004 to June 2006, which show that Darvill waste water works last achieved 100% compliance in June 2005 and managed 98,1% in February 2006.

The Howick plant’s best performance was 92,9% in February 2005. Umgeni Water spokesman Shami Harichunder, said: “We consider the results produced to be within reasonable limits and standards, considering that the average rate of compliance at many wastewater works in South Africa is 50%. Despite our performance, Umgeni Water is making every endeavour to enhance its rate of compliance to reach 100%, or close to it.”

The report Graham referred to was commissioned by Dwaf in 2006 and it is also alarming. It stated that most of the very small, small and medium-sized wastewater plants operated by municipalities did not meet the required Dwaf standards. The research showed that:

• More than half of the 51 plants examined did not have the skilled staff to operate and maintain them properly;

• About 30% of the plants needed immediate attention for electrical and mechanical maintenance to avoid a crisis such as an outbreak of water-borne diseases;

• Dwaf normally requires 95% compliance with its standards for maintaining and operating wastewater plants to limit their impact on the environment, but 96% of the plants investigated failed to meet these standards;

• Thirty-four of the 51 plants surveyed had a negative impact on the environment they discharge effluent into and the communities that live there, which could have health problems.

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