Fish River sewage and Makhanda: DWS answers questions

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Water leaving the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works is of drinking quality, the Department of Water and Sanitation has emphasised. This was part of the Department’s response to Grocott’s Mail‘s questions. We asked whether contamination of the Fish River by unprocessed sewage from the Cradock waste water treatment works would affect Makhanda’s water supply.

Makhanda (Grahamstown) is supplied with bulk water from two sources. The rainwater-dependent dams west of the town, and water from the Gariep Dam via the Orange-Fish tunnel, released from the Fish River and stored in the Glen Melville Dam east of Makhanda. The municipality recently announced that a connection allowing water from the latter to be fed into the drought-depleted western supply had been completed.

Grocott’s Mail asked DWS whether The Glen Melville Dam is receiving contaminated water from the Fish River, and what effect this might have on the treated water leaving the facility.

“Any pollution that happens in a water source does impact on the quality of any other body of water downstream,” DWS spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said. “The question of by how much can only be determined by testing and verifying.”

However, he said, “The quality of the water leaving the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works is of a potable [quality]implying that all impurities would have been removed. The water is treated.”

Water from the Fish River via the Orange-Fish tunnel is released periodically into the Glen Melville Dam to top it up. This is done at Fort Brown, downstream of the Cradock wastewater treatment works. Because of the high salt content of the Fish, the river is first flushed, either with the release of water from a dam higher up the river, or when there is a natural high flow after heavy rain.

In a media release on 24 June, the DWS announced they were taking legal action to force the Inxuba Yethemba Local Municipality to stop polluting the Fish River.

The waste water treatment works in Cradock (Inxuba Yethemba Municipality) is managed by the Chris Hani District Municipality.

“The Waste Water Treatment Works (at Cradock is non-functional and all that is done is add some chlorination to the effluent,” Ratau said in the statement. “Some settling of solids occurs in the tanks, but these results in an untreated overflow to the Great Fish River. The matter is now being handled at a higher level to resolve the problem.”

Ratau said the DWS Eastern Cape Region first issued a Directive to the Chris Hani District Municipality regarding the Cradock waste water treatment works in October 2016 to stop pollution from occurring, as well as to rehabilitate the affected area.

“The DM submitted an action plan which was not approved as it did not adhere to the requirements of the directive,” Ratau said. “Two more notices were issued in mid-2018 to submit an action … to address the current status of the non-compliances with the WWTW. No response from the DM was received.”

On the 3 April 2019 the DWS EC region referred the matter to DWS’s national Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement (CME) Unit to apply for a court interdict.

“The Office is awaiting outstanding reports to secure a successful application from the EC office,” Ratau said. The reports were expected on 26 June 2019 and DWS’s Legal Services would prepare them for the State Attorney by 28 June 2019.

“Action has been under way, primarily as per the prescripts of the Inter-Governmental Relations Framework, as well as allowing for an opportunity to the transgressor to make right,” Ratau said.

WHAT THE DWS FOUND IN CRADOCK

According to Ratau, the Department of Water and Sanitation’s Environmental Inspector found that:

* The WWTW has completely shut down. There is not a single municipal employee at the plant and the only people present on site, were two security guards;

* Waste Water continues to flow into the non-functional plant, but is then channeled, untreated, into the Great Fish River;

* The problems at the plant are mechanical in nature, as most of the pumps and all the brush aerators are dysfunctional;

* As a result of the WWTW and pump stations being non-operational, raw sewage is also being discharged at different places along the sewer lines, most notably out of manholes.

“It is further noted that the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTW) appears to be in this state for a number of weeks now, prior to the recent electricity cuts for non-payment and public unrest,” Ratau said. “Chris Hani has had a poor record of sewage problems in Cradock and DWS has issued notices and Directives in the past year for pollution from unrepaired sewer blockages, failed sewage pump stations and for non-compliance at the WWTW.”

Could Makana Municipality face similar action?

At a Makana Water Forum meeting in Noluthando Hall last year, DWS warned that Makana Municipality officials could face prosecution for spilling raw sewage into the Bloukrans and Botha’s rivers.

In a presentation at the 30 November 2018 meeting, DWS Water Quality Manager Mzukisi Maneli highlighted some of Makhanda’s worst ongoing sewage spillages. Photographs showed raw sewage pouring into the Bloukrans and Botha’s Rivers from broken sewerage pipes and junctions across the city, as well as infrastructure at the Belmont and Mayfield waste water treatment works.

“Here in Makana, there is an outbreak of waterborne disease waiting to happen. It’s only a matter of time,” Maneli said.

In Makana Municipality’s 2019/20 Final MTREF Budget tabled in Council on 30 May, the amounts of R5 456 819 in 2019/20 and R4 475 769 have been allocated from the Municipal Infrastructure Grant to refurbish the Belmont Valley Wastewater Treatment Works. R3 739 130 (2019/20) and R2 967 277 (2020/21) have been allocated from the MIG for upgrading infrastructure at the Mayfield Water Treatment Works. From the Water Services Infrastructure Grant (WSIG) R1.7 million has been allocated to buy a hydro-blast jetting machine, required to clear the blocked sewers that cause many of the sewage spills across the city.

Makana’s Infrastructure and Technical Services Dali Mlenzana was suspended in September 2018 pending an investigation into alleged misconduct. Newly appointed Community Safety and Social Services Director Kelello Makgoka acted in the role for three months. The role defaulted to the Municipal Manager Moppo Mene at the beginning of this year. The Cogta-based Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA) sent Luthando Maboza in April as acting infrastructure director.

HOW MAKHANDA’S WATER SUPPLY WORKS

Grahamstown relies on two bulk water supply systems, the Eastern and Western supply systems, each getting water from completely different catchment systems.

Eastern supply system draws water from the Orange-Fish River Inter Basin Transfer Scheme. This water has a long journey, starting at the Katse Dam in the highland mountains of Lesotho, then down the Orange River which flows into the Gariep Dam in the Free State, from there water is diverted through a long tunnel into the Fish River which is diverted to a weir and another tunnel to the Glen Melville Dam north-east of Grahamstown.

Raw water at Glen Melville Dam is treated at the James Kleynhans Water Treatment Works from whence it is pumped up to the two Botha’s Hill reservoirs. From Botha’s Hill the water gravitates through the pipe network and two lower level reservoirs (Mayfield and Tantyi reservoirs) to all the taps in the eastern half of Grahamstown.

The western supply system relies exclusively on rain falling into catchments above four local dams. Jamieson and Milner Dams, two very small dams (about 12% of the total western supply) at the top of the New Year’s River catchment, are unreliable during drought and can contribute about 1ML/day. Settlers and Howieson’s Poort Dams are situated in the Kariega River catchment and are the main supply dams feeding Grahamstown West and the town centre, supplying 77% and 11% of the total western supply system respectively. Water is pumped from Settlers to Howieson’s Poort Dam and then up to Waainek Water Treatment Works for purification before being released via gravity through the pipe reticulation and lower level reservoirs to the taps in the western half of Grahamstown.

  • The above explanation is an extract from an article by Matthew Weaver of the Institute for Water Research (IWR) and published in Grocott’s Mail. Read the full text below:

Water – from source to tap

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