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After more than a month of effluent flowing into the Vaal River, the Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation has pointed the finger at the Sedibeng District and Emfuleni Local Municipalities as being responsible. The lack of investment in maintenance of the sewage infrastructure is at the centre of crumbling current infrastructure, leading to contamination of the Vaal River System, the Committee said in a statement.

Following the pollution and raw sewage in the river causing people to get sick and fish to die, the Department of Water and Sanitation took water samples from the river to “know exactly what is causing all of this”. However, when the Committee visited the municipality and the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant, it found that some of the units were not functional leading to overloading of the remaining units.

Municipalities responsible for Vaal River pollution

The municipalities have plans to build new units, but the Committee emphasised that the old units must also be maintained to ensure optimal utilisation of the entire plant. “The Committee has always emphasised the need for proper investment on maintenance of infrastructure to ensure longevity of the system and to avoid the unintended consequences like the spillage into the river system. It is also a requirement by the Department of Cooperative Governance’s Back to Basics programme that municipalities must spend 10% of their budgets on maintenance,” it said in a statement.

“It is also concerning that municipalities are still using old infrastructure despite increasing populations and development which intensifies demand on the system. Government must make a concerted effort to invest money in the development of bigger infrastructure able to handle the current demand. The Committee has encouraged the department to put in place a regulatory framework that will enable the reuse of water as soon as it is treated at waste water treatment plants.”

Currently, the municipalities are treating water and releasing it into the river system. With a limited investment, a small plant can be installed at waste water plants that will ensure that the water is redirected back into the system, the Committee said. It therefore demanded that spillage into the Vaal river system is stopped, and requested monthly reports on interventions by all spheres of government in resolving the problem.

The current situation has not only created a health hazard, but has delayed the implementation of the Sebokeng Regional Sewer Scheme. “That ultimately has a negative social and economic consequences attached. Besides the obvious cost overruns associated with increasing building cost of materials, the other negative consequence is to small medium enterprises that would have benefited from the contract and created much needed job opportunities in the area,” the Committee said.

“The other social and economic impact the municipality faces as a result of the delay is that due to the spillage into the river system the amount of money it spends on purifying the water increases astronomically which affects the municipal finances negatively,” said Mlungisi Johnson, the Chairperson of the Committee.

The Committee has urged the department and rand water to find workable solutions to the current court challenges which have resulted in the delay, stating that the money spent in court cases could rather be invested in service delivery.

ImageCredit: Flickr/Dr Mary Gillham: https://www.flickr.com/photos/marygillhamarchiveproject/35468641110/in/photostream/

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