Lighting strikes and Tshwane sewage spill turns off water works

A year later and there’s still no solution to Hammanskraal’s water woes.

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01/11/2019 08:13:22

Lighting strikes and Tshwane sewage spill turns off water works 

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) has demanded clean drinking water from the City of Tshwane, the Gauteng and national governments since December 2018 but we have yet to see a permanent solution to the problem.

Last month the City of Tshwane told Parliament it had plans for repairs and upgrades to the Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment Works. The Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements and Water & Sanitation ordered that the Urban Settlement Development Grant be used to fund this. However, OUTA has been unable to get clarity on whether this work has started, raising concern that it has yet to be scheduled. OUTA has written repeatedly to the City asking for progress reports but has been ignored.

The problems of contaminated water in Tshwane remain urgent.

Last week (Saturday 26 October), the City of Tshwane announced that a sewage spill at Rooiwal had led to the temporary shutdown of the Temba Water Treatment Plant. The City blamed the spill and shutdown on power failure at a substation caused by a lightning strike.

Treated water from Rooiwal flows into the Apies River and the Leeuwkraal Dam. The Temba Water Treatment Plant takes water from Leeuwkraal and treats it for use as drinking water for Hammanskraal and Moretele Local Municipality.

“We are concerned about the fact that neither the Rooiwal nor Themba plants had back-up generators to prevent effluent from spilling into the Apies River and to treat the water supplied to the community,” says Soretha Venter, Legal Manager at OUTA.

“Why does this essential infrastructure not have back-up power in this era of loadshedding?”

The extent of the spill is unclear but was serious enough to warrant the shutdown of the Themba Water Treatment Plant. “The fact that the Leeuwkraal Dam was contaminated to the point that Temba was shut down indicates that the spill was serious” says Venter.

The City says it will have both plants up and running within a week and has taken steps to provide water to the community of Hammanskraal.

OUTA had conducted more independent water tests prior to the spill and, although not 100% up to standard, there had been an improvement in water quality. However, the recent spill may have jeopardised any progress.

“We have attempted to engage with all levels of government as Hammanskraal has drawn the attention of national, provincial and local government, but to no avail. It would seem that government only responds if the matter makes the media headlines,” says Venter.

In its presentation to the Portfolio Committee, the City of Tshwane said that only two of its 15 waste water treatment works (WWTW) were operating within the design capacity, with four of them – including Rooiwal – at a “critical state”. Rooiwal is 70% overloaded. The non-compliant effluent discharged into water resources affects the quality of raw water abstracted for drinking purposes.

“Treated waste water from Rooiwal WWTW pollutes the Apies River and Leeuwkraal Dam (source of drinking water to the Temba / Hammanskraal area),” said the City’s presentation to the Portfolio Committee. The City presented a plan to Parliament for refurbishment, maintenance and upgrading at Rooiwal. The upgrade is budgeted at R290 million and is due to start this year. The City says Rooiwal should be expanded but this would cost R2 billion which it hopes to do through a public-private partnership. Work is also planned on Temba, including using 30 tankers to supply the community with water at a cost of R2.5 million a month from this month.

OUTA will continue to engage with Government in the hope that it will provide a real solution for this ongoing problem.

A copy of OUTA’s letter to the City of Tshwane is here.
A soundclip (30 secs) with comment from OUTA’s Soretha Venter is here.
The Hammanskraal water quality report for 2 October here.
The Hammanskraal water quality report for 10 October is here.

Soretha Venter 
OUTA Legal Manager

Picture: Shutterstock

OUTA is a proudly South African civil action organisation, that is purely crowd funded. Our work is supported by ordinary citizens who are passionate about holding government accountable and ensuring our taxes are used to the benefit of all South Africans.