Sewage overflows in Mpumalanga, contaminating fresh water

The water treatment plant in Sakhile township near Standerton spills into the Vaal River. Picture: Sizwe sama Yende
The water treatment plant in Sakhile township near Standerton spills into the Vaal River. Picture: Sizwe sama Yende

All waste water-treatment plants owned by Mpumalanga’s 17 municipalities are leaking effluent and polluting fresh water sources such as rivers and wetlands.

This is putting the province’s residents at risk of contracting water-borne diseases as their fresh water may have E. coli and faecal coliform bacteria.

The 76 waste water-treatment plants do not comply with green drop standards as set out by the department of water and sanitation. Only 12 plants, which belonged to the department of public works, complied.

These standards are there to ensure that water authorities properly manage and regulate waste water-treatment plants so that they do not contaminate fresh water sources.

Mpumalanga Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Refilwe Mtshweni recently told the legislature that the municipalities failed to comply because they did not have operation and maintenance plans and did not adhere to and enforce effluent and sanitation bylaws.

The DA leader in the province, James Masango, said: “Communities across the province are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases caused by the sewage that is being dumped into fresh water sources by the municipalities. MEC Mtshweni must ensure that a waste water compliance programme is implemented in all municipalities to avoid pollution of fresh water.”

Masango said the worst case was in Lekwa municipality, in Standerton, where a pipe was continuously pumping litres of effluent into a wetland, which flows all the way into the Vaal River.

The Vaal River originates near Ermelo and flows in a westerly direction to the Vaal Dam, which feeds industries and households in Gauteng.

AfriForum took samples of the Vaal River water in Standerton to a laboratory in 2015 and tests revealed that the amount of E. coli and faecal coliform bacteria exceeded 1000 units per 100ml.

“In other municipalities, they connected more households without increasing the capacity of the waste water treatment plants. The DA will be laying criminal charges, according to the National Water Act, against municipal managers for polluting the water,” Masango said.

Mtshweni has indicated that her department will upgrade the water treatment plants in the 2017-2018 financial year.

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