Save the Vaal Environment (Save) said that none of the three Emfuleni wastewater treatment plants are meeting the requirements of their wastewater licences and stated that the impression that the Sedibeng Sewage Scheme is on track is erroneous.
“The existing Emfuleni wastewater treatment system remains dysfunctional and continues to pollute the Rietspruit and Vaal rivers,” said Save vice chairperson Maureen Stewart.
In response to Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu’s statement in Parliament, reported in Engineering News last week, Save said that despite the projects having been discussed by successive Ministers dating back to 2015, barring the completion of module 6 at the Sebokeng wastewater treatment plant, which was completed in December 2020, little has been done with the Sedibeng Regional Sewer Sanitation Scheme.
Mchunu said, in a series of answers in response to parliamentary questions, that the Sedibeng Regional Sewer Sanitation Scheme, which remains central to resolving the issues that affect the Vaal River System in the Emfuleni local municipality, has been prioritised by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and is part of the immediate scope of works that will be undertaken by Rand Water.
Rand Water was appointed in October as the Vaal River System Intervention Project Implementing Agent in the Emfuleni local municipality for three years to restore the water services infrastructure to an operational state.
In an update on the progress being made on the Sedibeng Regional Sewer Sanitation Scheme, which includes the upgrade of Sebokeng, Rietspruit and Leeuwkuil wastewater treatment works (WWTWs) and the completion of the Meyerton WWTW, he said that 10 unblocking and eight bio-solids contractors have been appointed to unblock sewer main lines and clean the WWTWs.
“Sewage is being removed from communities and channelled to wastewater treatment works, which has resulted in increased volumes of inflows into the Sebokeng, Leeuwkuil and Rietspruit WWTW.”
Stewart noted in a statement, released on January 20, that the Leeukuil plant operates below capacity as the pump station system feeding it needs to be fixed.
“Pipes have been unblocked but as the treatment plants do not work, the raw sewage is going straight into the Vaal river.”
Further, Rand Water’s work is limited to the funding provided.
Mchunu previously said that the estimated total cost for the intervention is R7.6-billion and the DWS had transferred R100-million to Rand Water to start with the operations in October 2021.
“The R100-million provided is similar to the amounts paid to Ekurhuleni Water Care Company and the South African National Defence Force. Neither of these organisations were given the funding to fix the wastewater treatment works.”
“There’s an excellent audit report which was completed by DWS in mid-2021 on what needs to be fixed in the treatment plants. There are skilled and professional engineering companies capable of doing the work. However, one of Save’s concerns is that consultants prefer to focus on new infrastructure – it is easier to do and more profitable – than to fix old infrastructure. Both of these aspects need priority attention and the all-important funding is simply not coming through.”
“Where is the 2021/22 budget within the R7.6-billion for the Sedibeng Regional Sewage Scheme? Where is the R300-million for the repairs to the three wastewater treatment plants and the 44 pump stations? Rand Water is a capable implementing agent but no-one can do much without accessible funding.”
Stewart further highlights another challenge in the protests undertaken at the wastewater treatment plants by members of the Sebokeng community, who are demanding jobs and not allowing employees and contractors to enter the plants.
“Both the Sebokeng and Rietspruit plants are currently barricaded by jobseekers who will not permit entry to these plants until they get the jobs promised by previous water ministers.”
“The only road to job creation is through the appointment of professional contractors to fix and expand the wastewater system and thus enhance opportunities for major private sector projects that are waiting in the wings and will help to build the economy and create jobs.”
Stewart also referred to the South African Human Rights Commission’s recommendations following an enquiry into human rights abuses in 2019.
“One recommendation is that Emfuleni be declared a provincial disaster area. This will open up funding to facilitate repairs to the wastewater system and provide other benefits to this failed municipality. It is not only the water system that has failed, the municipality’s notorious record of service delivery from waste removal to roads and everything in-between is reason enough to declare a provincial disaster.”
“This move is even more urgent with the Vaal river fast turning eutrophic primarily as a result of the sewage pollution. This is evidenced by an explosion of water lettuce in the river. This noxious alien floats on the water and is rapidly heading downstream as a result of the huge rains,” Stewart stated.
“There is a solution so why does the Gauteng Premier not heed the South African Human Rights Commission’s recommendation?,” Stewart concluded.