The Department of Water and Sanitation has approached the courts to force the Tshwane metro to clean up reported sewage sludge and solid waste flowing into the Pienaars river in the north of Pretoria.
The court case will start on Monday.
“We felt the metro was dragging its feet in dealing with pollution at the river,” said the department’s spokesperson Sputnik Ratau.
The pollution is believed to be as a result of a raw sewage spill coming from the Baviaanspoort wastewater treatment facility.
He said that the department took the legal route as the pollution was affecting the area’s ecosystem.
Ratau said they wanted the courts to force the metro to implement recommendations that the department drafted in resolving the issue.
“The courts will pronounce what will happen next,” he said.
Ratau said several rivers in the region were affected by pollution, but the department has not yet taken legal action again the metro on all of these others.
“The department has taken steps in resolving issues in the Rooiwal and Sunderland Ridge plants.”
This comes as the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) held a one-day inquiry last Friday.
The inquiry gave community members the chance to air their grievances about a stench emanating from the Roodeplaat dam.
The commission was also investigating reports of continuous sewage sludge and solid waste flowing from the Pienaars River into the Roodeplaat dam.
Tshwane utility services MMC Phillip Nel said the metro was aware of the issue of pollutants in the Pienaars river and the Roodeplaat dam and was working to resolve the issue.
He said the problem should be resolved with the re-commissioning of the Baviaanspoort treatment works in May 2021.
“One of the biological reactors on the Baviaanspoort wastewater treatment works was decommissioned due to leakage, causing the loss of purification capacity at the plant. The loss of treatment capacity is the primary cause of pollution within the Pienaars river, also polluting the Roodeplaat dam.”
He said the metro approved a project under the 2020/21 financial year budget to repair the Baviaanspoort works.
“It also includes upgrading of some electrical and mechanical equipment that needed replacement. A contractor had been appointed, which is currently busy upgrading the wastewater treatment works at a tender value of R41-million.”
“The metro is currently planning the phase 2 extension of the Baviaanspoort treatment works to provide additional capacity for future development in its catchment area. The total project value is estimated at R900-million.”
Nel said the metro was in talks with the department to update them on their plans.
During the inquiry, the metro utility services, and regional operations Nel said that the metro faced financial constraints and needed the department’s assistance in dealing with this.
Responding to this, Ratau said the metro could not give the matter back to the department as they received grants from the department. He said the metro needed to draw up a business case for the department to look into for additional grants to be given.
Nel said metro faced a maintenance backlog from way before 2004. He said considering the seriousness of the water issue, they hoped the department would increase external grant funding.
Nel said the metro needed about R9.2-billion to revamp its water treatment infrastructure.
Speaking at the commission for the residents, advocate Hendrik van Staden said the issue in Roodeplaat started in 2004 and the situation worsened in 2011.
He said the raw sewage did not only affect the Pienaars and Roodeplaat rivers, but also Apies and Hennops rivers.
“The matter was brought to the metro, but they have not taken the necessary action in dealing with this. This has affected residents, farmers. It has a snowball effect in the community”
The SAHRC visited the area in late 2019. Van Staden said several promises were made by the department and the metro, but none were kept.
SAHRC head Buang Jones said the commission would release a report within six months.
He said investigations into the matter had already began.
During the inquiry on Friday, Jones said the department was too lenient with the metro.
“The department was lenient in dealing with this and now we are in a crisis. We require the spheres of government to work together to find lasting solutions.
“The situation has deteriorated quite drastically. We are alarmed that since our last visit, the situation has not improved. We have received complaints from business forums, farmers, and residents. It requires the urgent attention of the metro and government.”
Jones said should the metro or responsible officials could face litigation if they fail to comply in resolving the matter.
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