Water activists join hands to highlight dire state of eThekwini Metro’s rivers

Water activists join hands to highlight dire state of eThekwini Metro’s rivers

WaterCAN and Adopt-a-River wants national government to intervene in Durban pollution crisis.

Image: WaterCAN

WaterCAN, a water-focused initiative driven by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) and Adopt-a-River, a KZN based non-profit organisation working on key waterways, have joined hands on one of Durban’s key river systems. The two groups of water activists have committed to undertake a series of bacterial and chemical tests along the Umbilo River, a highly polluted river that requires urgent intervention.

E.coli tests undertaken by Talbot Laboratories revealed that the E.coli levels downstream from the Umbilo Wastewater Treatment Works (UWWTW), situated near Pinetown, was ten times higher than upstream from the treatment works.

The upstream E.coli count was 5810/100ml while it measured at 61310/100ml downstream from the treatment works. A water body is deemed critical and dangerous to human health if the E.coli level is in excess of 400/100ml.

The water samples evaluated were obtained on 2 February 2023.

In conjunction with the Umbilo River results, Talbot Laboratories also released a batch of E.coli datapoints for various sites in Durban that included the Umgeni and Umdloti rivers, Durban’s Golden Mile and the Umhlanga beaches.

Near the prime tourist area of Blue Lagoon on the Umgeni River, the E.coli count was a massive 10810000/100ml, while the Umdloti River’s reading was 2987/100ml.

While the city’s central beaches were all declared safe by authorities, their proximity to the Umgeni River means that these popular swimming beaches’ E.coli readings could easily change for the worse dependent on sea currents. Furthermore, the Umhlanga beaches continue to hover in the critical range area.

WaterCAN’s KwaZulu-Natal representative, Jonathan Erasmus, said the results on their own were troubling. “If we take a wider view of the critical state of the city’s river systems and in the context of eThekwini Metropolitan’s consistent failures to take the sewage crisis seriously, we are presented with an extremely worrying picture indicating that the city’s residents will be facing this problem for months, if not years, to come.”

Erasmus said the claim by eThekwini authorities that they lacked the required budget to meet all its commitments was a “red herring”, with the real issue being a lack of procurement and spending controls.

“Earlier this month,  the city squandered approximately R500 000 on a council meeting which the governing party deliberately collapsed due to its own internal political issues. This type of reckless spending is completely unwarranted, especially when we have wastewater treatment plants that are clearly not working and requiring urgent capital investment,” said Erasmus.

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

Janet Simpkins of Adopt-a-River said they were joining forces with WaterCAN and Talbot Laboratories to keep the public and specifically the community along the embattled Umbilo River informed. “We also want to highlight the plight of the city’s broken sewer networks and wastewater treatment works.”

WaterCAN used its own quality-tested and internationally approved testing kit, which can be easily used by any member of the public with minimal training, to perform the tests. The WaterCAN tests mirrored the Talbot results and also found high traces of coliform which indicates elevated levels of animal waste and decomposed plant matter, as well as several chemical parameters which found prominent levels of phosphates, normally found in fertilizers.

“By shining the spotlight on the crisis with facts like test results, we hope to continue the pressure and together raise awareness to national government that intervention at infrastructure level is long overdue and critical,” Simpkins said.

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