YELLOWFISH WORKING GROUP - YWG October 2018 Newsletter

Dear YWG supporter,

The Vaal crisis continues and for this newsletter I have asked our FOSAF Northern Region chairman, Chris Williams, who has since July been part of the team trying their best to help resolve the problem, to give the YWG an update on the issue. Sadly, there is not much cheer about:

 

The Emfuleni Local Municipality’s Council’s ongoing sewage pollution of the Vaal River and its tributaries is as a result of the collapse of its waste water treatment system. This Council was placed under the partial administration of Gauteng Legislature in May/June 2018.   The waste water system has now collapsed and caused a serious environmental and health crisis. The problem started as far back as 2003. We have records of correspondence with the then Department of Water and Forestry.  SAVE hold six court orders against the Emfuleni Local Municipality for sewage pollution of the Vaal River going back to 2008.  The Emfuleni Local Council, Gauteng Legislature and the Department of Water and Sanitation are in contravention of the National Environmental Management Act and National Water Act. No-one in Government cares.

The situation is now reached crisis proportions with raw sewage flowing in the streets and in peoples’ homes in Sebokeng, Evaton, Vereeniging, Vanderbijl Park and elsewhere in Emfuleni. This poses a serious health risk and an environmental disaster. The Rietspruit, once a pristine tributary supporting a diverse ecology, abounding with fish and birdlife is, today, a sewage pit.  The sewage needs to be stopped from flowing into our precious water resources and a major rehabilitation programme is necessary to try and revive the Rietspruit.

Stakeholders, such as SAVE and FOSAF, have placed incredible pressure on Government to try and avert the current crisis.  No response.  This year alone, actions have included:

 

  1. 1.      High Court action – SAVE vs Emfuleni Local Council

13 Feb 2018: SAVE obtained a structural interdict against the council to stop polluting the Vaal and its tributaries. The council is in contempt of this order and SAVE is returning to court.

  1. 2.      Emails are unanswered

Numerous letters of complaint to the DWS Minister, the Gauteng premier and the Emfuleni Municipal Manager go unanswered. Requests for meeting are largely ignored.

  1. High profile media coverage,

Innumerable investigative journalists have visited the area, videoed conducted interviews and have exposed human rights horrors and devastating environmental degradation. Coverage extended to most news and current affairs programmes on TV (including ‘Carte Blanche’), radio and in print to social media.  This negative publicity does not seem to bother Government officials, except to try and avoid being interviewed on these programmes. When they are interviewed their lack of knowledge is often shameful

  1. 4.      Save meeting with Gauteng COGTA – 13 July 2018

SAVE the VAAL met with the Gauteng COGTA (at which the special adviser to the Premier was present part-time).  Promises were made that short, medium and long term plans were in hand.  SAVE underlined the importance of dealing with the emergency repairs to stop pollution of the Vaal River and its tributaries, avert a health crisis due to the unbearable living conditions of many residents of Emfuleni.

  1. Human Rights Commission Enquiry – September 2018.

In September 2018, the Human Rights Commission opened an inquiry into whether or not “the state of the Vaal River violates or threatens human rights, including environmental rights in terms of Section 24 of the Constitution”.                At the inquiry, the Government delegation (representatives from Department of Water and Sanitation, Rand Water, Gauteng, COGTA and Emfuleni Local Municipality) stated that the only confirmed funds were R20 million to repair the pump stations, of which R5 million had been received. There are 44 pump stations and repairs are estimated at R3 million per pump station. The DWS were providing some funding to continue the expansion of Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant (module 6) and repairs to the vandalised and dysfunctional aforementioned plant (modules 3-5) which is currently spewing a daily 150 million litres of raw sewage into the Vaal  River via the Rietspruit. We estimate a total of about 600 million litres of raw sewage emanating from the Rietspruit and Kliprivier alone. A further R100 million from the Department of Housing has been committed but this is to cater for waste water services for 1000 new houses – not to deal with the existing capacity constraints. It is questionable as to whether the R100 million will cover the entire cost of infrastructure required for service delivery to these new developments.  

  1. Action to date.

One pump station has been repaired so far. Work is allegedly progressing slowly on the repairs to the Sebokeng waste water treatment plant but E.coli counts in raw water indicate that the same quantity of raw sewage continues to gush into the Rietspruit. Results from FOSAF’s independent testing of additional organisms such as Vibrio, Cholera and Pseudomonas are starting to come in and these are well over the maximum permissible counts.

  1. Funding requirements.

If the problems are to be dealt with in the long term R5 billion is required over a 5-20 year period. The planning to prevent this crisis goes back to 2007 but it has not got beyond the drawing board. Plans have been diluted from a new mega waste water treatment plant to merely upgrading and increasing the capacity of three old and broken existing plants.

It’s a tragic situation – not only the environmental disaster but also the risk to human health, food sustainability, fly fishing and tourism, agricultural exports, property values and the devastating impact on the Vaal economy and job creation which are at an all-time low.

Human risks apart from the gastro-intestinal and skin condition risks now include Giardia (many cases already in the mid Vaal), Cholera, and several neurotoxic  risks from BMAA cyanobacteria and from certain types of OP pesticide – the latter two neurotoxic effects on humans and on human brains is being currently researched by two prominent local Universities with whom we are in direct contact for their predictions and results. With the more severe risks symptoms may often only manifest themselves days, weeks or even months after human ingestion or exposure. The human risk factor is not a scare tactic. This is a scientific possibility and reality if the above programme is not carried out starting with IMMEDIATE remediation of the worst areas such as Leeukuil, Rietspruit and Kliprivier. We have been stressing this since our July meeting since which nothing of any significance has been done by Government. 

As you can see, it is not a happy picture.

Kind regards,

Peter 

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