[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Poo on Durban beaches, and everywhere else too
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Fri Mar 21 08:54:58 GMT 2008
(Shit, I was just heading to the beach with my son, an avid surfer...
and now am going to think twice. Damn these bastards at Durban city
hall, for underfunding pipe maintenance, not giving poor people decent
toilets, and garnering international awards from the likes of National
Geographic and the UN Environment Programme the whole time. Damn the
national policy-makers, going back two decades, for not having any sense
of how to expand sanitation systems to cope with post-Pass Laws
urbanisation. Damn Trevor Manuel for underfunding municipalities since
the mid-1990s. The superb environmentalist Victor Munnik has an
interesting national overview, below, though I think he surrenders on a
basic point, seemingly accepting the idea that there won't be enough
money available to solve the simple problem of moving excrement from
homes to treatment plants, and hence arguing that the water-borne system
should be scrapped - but with what sort of alternative? Urinary
Diversion toilets in Durban are absolute crap; Ventilated Improved
Pitlatrines are also mucking up the groundwater with E.coli; and we
haven't got to the stage at which the neoliberal state will invest
R8000/unit in biodigesters for households and kraals. I'm drinking
Durban tap water in my coffee at this moment; last Sunday at the Left
Forum in NYC we had a lovely panel discussion with Maude Barlow and Alan
Snitow partially about bottled water - we all agree it should be banned,
as is now starting to happen in some restaurants. But you read reports
like these, below, and your gut wrenches.)
Are you visiting Durban this weekend?
19 March 2008, 16:58
Durban is under pressure to get an independent laboratory to test the
city's sea-water quality before the Easter weekend following a major
sewage leak into the sea from storm-damaged pipelines.
Over the past seven days, the volume of sewage flowing into the sea via
the Isipingo River has been estimated at 18-million litres a day.
The total estimated spillage over the past week is 126-million litres,
considerably larger than the 36-million-litre sewage spill that killed
thousands of fish in Durban Harbour earlier this year.
Allison Kelly, the national co-ordinator of the blue-flag beach scheme,
said her office had been inundated with telephone calls from anxious
Durban residents and Gauteng holidaymakers who wanted to know if it was
safe to swim at Durban beaches.
Kelly said there was major concern about the number of sewage pipes
ruptured in Umlazi during a severe rainstorm last Tuesday.
The concern was heightened by the decision to suspend the status of the
majority of Durban's blue-flag beaches following a series of recent
tests that showed high readings of sewage pollution - before the most
recent sewage leaks into the Isipingo River.
Kelly said the suspension of blue-flag status and the Isipingo leak were
also raised at a meeting of the KZN provincial coast care committee on
"We don't know what the condition of the sea water is at the moment in
the lead-up to the Easter weekend, particularly on the southern beaches.
So we are calling on eThekwini to institute independent sea-water
quality tests to resolve the questions people have raised with us.
"We understand that eThekwini have started their own testing, but we
don't know how long it will take to get results.
"We believe that the public has a right to know whether it is safe to
swim in the sea, especially in the light of the sewage leaks at
Isipingo. What concerns us is that eThekwini does not have the
facilities to do the tests quickly enough and we would prefer if tests
could be done by an independent laboratory.
"It may be that there is no significant health risk, so testing would
resolve those questions very quickly," Kelly said.
However, if the tests showed high levels of sewage pollution, the
eThekwini Municipality needed to advise people swim at their own risk.
Di Dold, the regional co-ordinator of the Wildlife and Environment
Society, said it was clear that senior city officials were reluctant to
acknowledge that Durban had major sewage-related pollution problems.
"The city is in denial and until they admit that there is a problem, we
won't know exactly what the problems are, nor how to deal with them,"
Responding to e-mailed questions, eThekwini water and waste department
chief Neil Macleod said repair work to the damaged sewers was still
"Some of the repairs have been completed, but in other cases we are
still awaiting the delivery of pipes or for support piers to be
"Sewage continues to flow down the Isipingo River at an estimated rate
of 18-million litres per day."
Municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe did not return telephone calls,
while Andrew Mather, the senior city official in charge of coastal
policy, said he was "at liberty" not to comment.
# Meanwhile, another sewage leak was reported in a storm-water canal
alongside Umgeni Road, in Springfield Park, yesterday.
Durban resident Chris Allen said large volumes of sewage were floating
in the canal when he arrived at work yesterday and there was a very
strong smell coming from the canal, which flows into the Umgeni River.
Springfield Park resident G Munsamy said eThekwini staff had been trying
to clear sewage blockages near a manhole in Foxglove Place for the past
Munsamy complained that an open storm-water drain which flowed through
his garden had not been cleared of vegetation and litter for almost two
years, leading to stagnant pools of water.
* This article was originally published on page 3 of The Mercury on
March 19, 2008
Sewerage shapes up as next crisis
18 March 2008, 09:46
By Victor Munnik
Any local politician would prefer to be remembered for "building" a
thousand new houses, rather than for passing a budget setting aside more
money for the local sewerage network. But it is exactly this innocent
twist of human nature that is helping to shape a sewerage crisis, which
is now hitting the country.
Since 2004 a spate of surveys and technical papers have noted that up to
70 percent of municipal waste-treatment works face collapse for lack of
proper maintenance and extension, while around a third require
"immediate intervention" and another third intervention "within the
short to medium term".
Collapse may be the wrong word, but what is happening is ongoing decay
as municipalities increasingly fail to comply with the specifications of
the licence that allows them to release "treated wastewater" into our
rivers, with serious consequences for human health and water ecosystems.
Signs of this decay among the nearly 1 000 wastewater treatment works
nationally are becoming ominously visible, in sewerage works in Gauteng,
beaches outside Durban and Western Cape facilities.
Last week, while denying that South Africa faced an overall water
crisis, water (DWAF) minister Lindiwe Hendricks told Parliament that a
DWAF audit of municipal wastewater treatment works "found that the
situation in many municipalities is dire, and must be addressed as a
matter of urgency".
"The pollution in some of our rivers can be directly linked to failure
on the part of these municipal wastewater treatment plants, and there is
no denying that some of these plants are in poor condition."
The crisis is not confined to small towns.
The Percy Stewart works in Mogale City (Krugersdorp) feature in a
Democratic Alliance report detailing overall infrastructure maintenance
problems. The nearby Flip Human works have also run into difficulties.
A 2007/8 DWAF study of the drinking-water quality of 28 Western Cape
municipalities found poor water quality (a lower than 97 percent
compliance with E coli or faecal standards) in 13 Western Cape
municipalities, including Stellenbosch and Oudtshoorn.
In Durban, a sewage leak into the Umhlatuzana River was the main cause
of the fish killed in Durban Harbour in late December.
All three of the sewage works in Emfuleni are, if not in crisis, at
least under strain. North West University water researcher Professor
Johan Tempelhoff has observed raw sewage from the Leeuwkuilspruit works
in Sharpeville reaching the Vaal untreated, and raw sewage spilling from
the Sebokeng works into water used by Sebokeng residents for washing
clothes, for their kids to play in, and as drinking water for animals.
In August last year, on Women's Day, raw sewage from the Rietspruit
works lined the road between Vanderbijlpark and Potchefstroom for a
distance of two kilometres.
DWAF has intervened in Emfuleni where a residents' organisation, Save
the Vaal Environment (Save), is threatening to take the municipality to
court. Emfuleni will now spend R50-million on emergency measures while
DWAF has undertaken to build a new, regional sewage works at a cost of
between R500- and R800-million, and has upgraded sewage pump stations
along the river.
The many reports on sanitation agree on what the solutions have to be:
regaining skills to operate wastewater treatment plants, and budgeting
for proper operations and regular maintenance. Many people responsible
for water and wastewater management are inadequately experienced, and
lack the skills required for effective and compliant works operation.
They often lack the clout to convince the politicians that limited
municipal budgets must give greater priority to funding for staffing,
maintenance, repairs, rehabilitation and expansion. Works are frequently
under-staffed, with a single operator working during office hours on
plants running 24/7.
Because of the complexity of wastewater treatment, many plants have been
automated. However, there is a national shortage of instrumentation
technicians, who are paid far better in the private sector. This leaves
municipal plants at particular risk of failure.
Municipal water services personnel are operating under extreme stress.
Often the easiest solution is to defer decisions, including maintenance.
There is high staff turnover, and institutional memory and routines are
lost. A new study by Allyson Lawless, published by the SA Institution of
Civil Engineering, demonstrates that today municipalities employ only a
seventh of the number of engineers employed 15 years ago, while service
coverage has increased significantly.
Shockingly, 94 municipalities currently employ no engineering staff at
all. Training institutions remark that workers who come to them for
"advanced training" are often not equipped with the basics. Managers
take on positions that require technical training, knowledge and
experience, often without having any of these.
Municipal budgets focus on new construction, and not on the unglamourous
task of maintenance. The emphasis in government is on building new
housing and extending services to the unserved. All this increases the
burden on the existing network and treatment works, some of which do not
even have the water supply needed to do their job.
Because pipe and storm-water systems are badly maintained, storm water
and contaminated rainwater also enter the system, overloading the
Similarly, the government is also putting in flush toilets wherever it
can. Flush toilets and sewered systems depend on the idea that water
carries the waste to where it can be treated and disposed of safely. But
when this assumption no longer holds, our sanitation system ends up
deliberately polluting fresh water.
The flush idea comes from water-rich Europe, whereas South Africa is an
arid country with many poor people. The idea of toilet-flushing, at say
12 litres per flush, is hardly feasible within the current allocation of
6 000 litres of free basic water per household per month.
The irony is that the huge investment in extending coverage in taps and
toilets may well lead to rising diarrhoea incidences if we cannot ensure
the quality of our effluent treatment and our drinking water treatment.
The results are a pollution nightmare.
Our current sanitation system of "flush and forget" is a dangerous one -
made more dangerous by the way it is not working. The first mistake is
to mix urine and faeces, which makes for a much more active chemistry
than they would separately, and then to drop that into clean water.
This mixture then goes through a network of sewer pipes, some of them
really old and cracked, with tree roots growing into them creating hooks
for plastic bags and condoms.
Assuming it gets to the treatment works, it is then treated by a person
who may well not have mastered the basics of his or her job.
To add another layer to the crisis, power interruptions mean that sewage
treatment is interrupted too. When the pumps and aerators are out,
delicate chemical and biological treatment processes are disrupted, and
minimal treatment is possible. The result is that inadequately treated
effluent is discharged.
The water, when released from the water treatment plant, may or may not
meet the stipulated effluent specifications. However, it still contains
nutrients like phosphate which leads to eutrophication - an excess of
nutrients in the water resulting in algal blooms - which can turn toxic
and disturbs ecosystems.
Even though most of the works treating effluent that is discharged into
the Hartebeespoort dam do comply with the conditions of their discharge
permits, it is the sheer volume of the nutrient load coming through that
is impacting on water quality.
# Munnik is an independent environmental researcher working in Johannesburg.
* This article was originally published on page 9 of The Cape Times
on March 19
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