Midmar mess ‘is a crime’

2019-11-26 17:02
Midmar Dam, one of the valuable environmental assets in the uMgungundlovu district.

Midmar Dam, one of the valuable environmental assets in the uMgungundlovu district.

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The uMngeni Municipality and the uMgungundlovu District Municipality could feel the might of the law for the ongoing pollution of Midmar Dam after an environmental activist laid a criminal charge against them for “water pollution”.

Judy Bell, a veteran environmental consultant with experience in waste and water management, has also implicated the national Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation in what she claims is the “perilous state” of water resources in Howick and Mpophomeni.

The water quality in Midmar Dam has recently been a bone of contention among activists and the public after images circulated last week of what appeared to be a thick layer of sewage entering the Mthinzima Bay portion of the dam.

While the images themselves were dismissed as exaggerated, legitimate questions have been asked about ageing sewerage infrastructure in Mpophomeni and the frequent serious sewage leaks resulting from that.

This threw into the spotlight the ongoing pollution entering Midmar, with an environmental body, the Enviro Champs, later telling The Witness that thousands of litres of sewage gush into rivers entering Midmar every day.

In the wake of this, Umgeni Water confirmed it is planning to begin construction of a new R389 million wastewater treatment plant in Mpophomeni, due to begin in January. This would lighten the load on existing infrastructure.

Bell said she had decided to open a criminal case after exhausting all other options, while watching the quality of water in the area drop.

She has accused government authorities of failing to take the necessary steps to ensure water security in the area. “I’m done talking. I’ve done everything I can and it’s getting worse. There is no other way to get them [the government] to listen, there’s only the threat of legal action.

“Remember that it is bigger than just Midmar. It is about the perilous state of all our water resources in an ever-deepening and extending drought, while our population increases and our ageing infrastructure fails,” Bell said.

She believes the proposed new waste-water plant would not make much of a difference, adding that the infrastructure in Mpophomeni needs an upgrade. “All the inflows need to cleaned up at source.”

She said uMngeni and the district have allowed major developments to continue in Howick despite “inadequate” infrastructure available, including electricity, water and waste management.

Police spokesperson Captain Nqo­bile Gwala confirmed a case of water pollution is under investigation.

uMgungundlovu spokesperson Brian Zuma refused to comment on the criminal charge, but said the pollution of Midmar Dam last week was the result of recent heavy rains.

“This resulted in the blockage of pipes and storm water drains, and the resultant pollution of the dam. Our team has attended to the matter and unblocked the system,” he said.

uMngeni spokesperson Thando Mgaga didn’t comment directly on the charge, saying only that maintaining the water quality of Midmar was “the line function of uMgungundlovu­ District Municipality.”

Neither the Department of Human Settlements nor the Department of Water and Sanitation responded to a query.

The Duzi Umngeni Conservation Trust (Duct) said while there are “regular sewage spills” in Mpophomeni, the trust’s monitoring of the spills has curbed the problem to a degree, adding that the new proposed plant would be another positive development.

Its chairperson Dave Still said Umgeni Water’s recent sampling of the water showed E. coli levels to be “well within the international standard”.

“All this is not to say that there should not be concern regarding the pollution of Midmar Dam. Midmar is arguably the most vital reservoir in the region’s water supply system and therefore pollution needs to be kept as low as possible,” Still said.

Read more on:    sewage spillage  |  pietermaritzburg  |  midmar dam

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