WATCH | Court action to stop raw sewage going into Great Fish River

Untreated sewage is pouring into the Great Fish River following a major breakdown at the water treatment works at Cradock.
Untreated sewage is pouring into the Great Fish River following a major breakdown at the water treatment works at Cradock.
Image: Supplied

The national department of water and sanitation is taking legal action against an Eastern Cape municipality to stop it from polluting the Great Fish River with raw sewage.

The department confirmed on Monday that the court action against Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality – which forms part of the Chris Hani District Municipality – comes on the back of the total shutdown of the waste water treatment plant near Cradock.

Upon inspection last week, the department found that the treatment plant was inactive.

Waste water continued to flow into the plant but then remained untreated and was channelled into the river.

“It is further noted that the waste water treatment plant appears to have been in this state for a number of weeks now, prior to the recent electricity cuts for nonpayment and public unrest.

“Chris Hani has had a poor record of sewage problems in Cradock and the [department] has issued notices and directives in the past year for pollution from unfixed sewer blockages, failed sewer pump stations and non-compliance at [the plant],” the statement said.

Untreated sewage is pouring into the Great Fish River following a major breakdown at the water treatment works at Cradock. Read more: https://bit.ly/2MMdqRW

DA Eastern Cape Midlands constituency leader Retief Odendaal said he was thrilled to hear the department had committed to taking action against the “environmental and economic crisis”.

Odendaal said he had written to water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu, calling on her and the department to intervene urgently within the next seven days.

“Given the significance of the Great Fish River and the vital role it plays in the irrigation of hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land, the discharge of raw, untreated sewage into this river is both a looming ecological and economic disaster.

“Even more disturbing is the fact that a number of settlements lower down the river have no choice but to draw water for human consumption directly from the Fish [River], given the severe drought that has crippled our region,” he wrote.

In response to the threat of legal action, Chris Hani District acting municipal manager Bhekisisa Mthembu said the Cradock Waste Water Treatment Plant aerators were frequently submerged, posing stress to their bearings and gearboxes.

Mthembu said the municipality had recently refurbished the aerators using a local contractor and the plant was operational for a short time.

“Currently, the district has appointed a service provider for the refurbishment of the works to get the plant up and running.

“Another service provider was also appointed for the application of enzymes and bacteria to the plant to assist with the breakdown of ammonia, nitrates, phosphorus and chemical oxygen demand.

“The district will intensify the monitoring of the work to ensure it yields the intended results,” Mthembu said.

“The application of enzymes will be monitored on a regular basis to ensure that the plant discharges final effluent that complies with required limits.”

According to the statement, the provincial department first issued a directive to Chris Hani municipality in October 2016 to apply for authorisation for the plant, to stop pollution from occurring and to rehabilitate the affected area.

The municipality’s proposed action was not approved, and two more notices were issued in 2018 to submit an action plan with immediate solutions to address the inefficient status of the plant.

“On April 3 2019, the [Eastern Cape provincial department] referred the matter to the [national] department’s compliance, monitoring and enforcement unit for application of a court interdict.

“The [national compliance, monitoring and enforcement unit] is awaiting outstanding reports to secure a successful application from the Eastern Cape office. The reports are expected on June 26.”

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