Ethekwini Municipality urged to act and save the Umbilo River

Ethekwini Municipality urged to act and save the Umbilo River

WaterCAN and Adopt-a-River Urge eThekwini Municipality to Address High E-coli Levels in Umbilo River

Image: WaterCAN

WaterCAN, an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), and Durban-based non-profit Adopt-a-River have written to the eThekwini Municipality to immediately address the dangerously high levels of E-coli in the Umbilo River.

The two organisations conducted a series of E. coli tests both below and above the Umbilo River Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) over a period of six weeks. The collected samples were tested by Talbot Laboratories.

The Umbilo river is the culmination of multiple tributaries and groundwater resources joining about 40km inland near the Durban suburb of Gillitts. The river flows through various residential, industrial and nature reserve areas and eventually flows into the ocean through the port of Durban.

The river supports multiple livelihoods from bed and breakfast establishments to holiday parks as well as small scale farming.

The test results were as follows (E. coli count/100ml):

2 February 2023 15 February 2023 3 March 2023
Above Umbilo WWTW 5810/100 686700/100 129970/100
Below Umbilo WWTW 61310/100 30760/100 8690/100
  1. coli levels above 400/100ml are considered to be “critical” and dangerous to human health if ingested.In the letter sent to the municipality the two organisations urged the city to:
  • Inspect, repair, upgrade and maintain the Umbilo River WWTW.
  • Publicise a schedule/timeline as to when the Umbilo River WWTW will be repaired, upgraded and maintained.
  • Investigate, identify and repair broken sewerage lines that are overflowing into the river both upstream and downstream of the Umbilo River WWTW.
  • Investigate, identify and criminally charge, issue fines and demand corrective action by any business or household illegally discharging industrial and/or household waste into the Umbilo River.

WaterCAN and Adopt-A-River notified the city that they would begin taking more samples along the river in 60 days, during which time they expect the city to undertake urgent repair and maintenance initiatives.

Janet Simpkins of Adopt-A-River said there is growing anger among the city’s residents and businesses over the state of river systems, and that people are no longer willing to allow the status quo to go unchallenged.

“Various organisations and individuals across the city and KwaZulu-Natal are working towards finding long term solutions for the poor state of our river systems. We are exploring all possible means of changing the status quo. One proven method is the continued testing and publication of E. coli results by private individuals and non-profit organisations. We will continue to test, expose and demand accountability river by river, beach by beach,” said Simpkins.

WaterCAN’s KwaZulu-Natal representative Jonathan Erasmus said the sample results should worry every senior city official whose mandate it is to protect and maintain the city’s water systems.

“City officials’ constant neglect of our waterways could result in them being criminally charged. This is not an idle threat, as there is case law developing around this type of accountability. The city needs to take the issue of water safety extremely seriously. In a water scarce country like ours, the preservation of our water sources should be among the highest priorities of local, provincial and national government,” said Erasmus.

To read the letter sent to eThekwini Municipality click here.

WaterCAN website: 
A soundclip from Jonathan Erasmus available here.

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