Reasonable progress made in dealing with polluted Vaal River - portfolio committee

Members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) do some work at a water pump in Boitumelo at the Vaal River. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)
Members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) do some work at a water pump in Boitumelo at the Vaal River. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)
Deaan Vivier

Reasonable progress was being made to resolve the polluted Vaal River system with "steady improvements" already visible, the human settlements, water and sanitation portfolio committee said on Thursday.

But the broader solution to the problem was two-fold - improved legislative framework governing water infrastructure and dealing with operational and maintenance backlogs, it said in a statement.

"The amendment of the two primary legislations, the Water Services Act and National Water Act, is now pressing to ensure synergy and efficiency between the two legal frameworks. We are of the view that the current legal framework must be strengthened to make it more effective," committee chairperson Machwene Semenya said.

READ | SANDF intervention in the Vaal comes to an end, but water department has a plan

Last year, the Department of Water and Sanitation set aside R341m for the resuscitation of all wastewater treatment infrastructure in the Vaal Triangle to prevent further pollution in the Vaal River, News24 previously reported.

Directives by the department to municipalities - the source of the pollution - were not working, the committee said, which resulted in the need to reconsider the licensing of municipalities that were failing to run wastewater treatment plants.

Deterioration of infrastructure

READ | SANDF to withdraw from Vaal River intervention project by Friday

It said it was concerned by the deterioration of infrastructure owing to both a lack of maintenance as well as adequate skills to run wastewater treatment plants.

"The justification of lack of skills can no longer be accepted as rational in an environment where the health of our people is of great concern. There must be a concerted effort to increase the skills pool from where municipalities can draw to run these wastewater treatment plants effectively," Semenya said.

The committee called for vacant critical positions to be filled swiftly within municipalities to ensure a skills transfer when the intervention ended.

Semenya said the committee agreed with the minister of cooperative governance (Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) there was a "need to relook the funding mechanism of municipalities because the shortage of resources has a direct link to lack of operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment plants".

It concurred with Dlamini-Zuma there was a need to relook the funding mechanism of municipalities because the "shortage of resources has a direct link to a lack of operation and maintenance of the wastewater treatment plants".

More collaboration between all levels of the government was needed to reduce the "current silo approach", which the committee said exacerbated the problem.

This week, the committee conducted a site visit where it found untreated water being dumped into river streams around the Seshego and Polokwane wastewater treatment plants.

"We were informed that due to the non-functioning upstream system of the wastewater plants, it was impractical to disinfect the water and that adding chlorine might cause more chemical reactions that might be harmful. The committee instructed both the department and municipality to urgently fix the broken-down system to ensure that the water is disinfected," Semenya said.

The committee called for an integrated approach in planning, from national to local level, to ensure that plans complemented each other.

- Compiled by Tammy Petersen

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