Michele du Plessis
“Overgrown, filthy premises, an empty laboratory without testing equipment, anaerobic and anoxic dams filled to capacity with solids and a sludge digestion dam covered in… well, sludge at the top. Inflow water and outflow water are the same: raw, untreated sewage wastewater, pumped into the river.” All this and more, protected by an R 910 615-00 newly erected fence, courtesy of Thaba Chweu Local Municipality.
This is how the Graskop Wastewater Treatment Plant is described in a report that is in the possession of GPS News (Report on GWWTP). “The entire plant is a safety hazard, from the effluent to the mechanical part. The water is pumped untreated into the Mac Mac River, which flows into the Sabie River, on its way to Hazyview and the Kruger National Park.” Forest Falls and Mac Pools are tourist destinations, locals visit these sites and rural communities use this water for drinking, washing, food preparation. Nearby towns are all very likely to contract some of these health hazards.
Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA) – Annual Performance Plan 2019/20, Page B3 (18): “Water resource pollution, especially sewage leaking/spilling into the water resources, causes a serious health risk to South Africa and sharing states, Mozambique and Swaziland; Issues of concern, some of which need law enforcement include: Discharge of non-compliant effluent from non-functional sewage treatment facilities.”
GPS News spoke to Dr. Johan Ligthelm from Graskop. “I had to chase tourists out of the water at Forest Falls. They did not know that the river water is a health hazard. The way that things are going… we are all in for a big surprise,” Dr. Ligthelm said.
“There was a strong smell of sewage at the Forest Falls site during the 2016 site visit. The site is located downstream from Graskop town and Driekop sawmill. Sewage pollution from the dysfunctional WWTW’s at Graskop (IUCMA 2015) is discharged into the Mac Mac River, with a negatively effect on stream conditions,” Eco status of the Sabie Sand River Catchment 2016, Page B151 (155)
Further on in the Report on GWWTP: “The plant is only wasting electricity by pumping water around the plant and stirring it a bit. Sludge activation is not working at all. The downstream river will produce a lot of problems. With the raw sewage water running into the river, the chances of E-coli poisoning is extremely high. Iron, manganese and hydrogen sulphide to name a few, is entering the river.”
“E. coli counts in the Usuthu Catchment did not comply with the TWQG limits of 130 (cfu/100ml). The non-compliance can mostly be attributed to the WWTW which discharge untreated or partially treated wastewater into the streams, non-point sources such as illegal waste dumping and agricultural activities,” IUCMA Annual Water Quality Status Report 2018-19, P16 and P40.
Nitrogen and phosphates entering the river encourage algae growth which in turn destroys the ecosystem. Health hazards that can be fatal include Salmonella, Campylobacteriosis, Giardiasis, Hepatitis A and Leptospirosis. Any person or animal coming into contact with the river and groundwater is in danger of contamination. Aquatic plant and animal life are affected as well.
“The chemical monitoring site on the Mac Mac River, from which the background data were derived, is located between the Forest Falls and Mac Mac Falls. Elevated levels, when compared to background information was measured in terms of ph., sodium, nitrates and potassium. Elevated pH and potassium levels were measured at the Forest Falls site, which is located downstream from Graskop town and raw sewage inputs from a tributary draining from Graskop.
More sampling locations were sampled during 2016 in the Mac Mac River compared to 2011.
The deterioration in the Mac Mac River is attributed to inputs of polluted water from Graskop
Town,” Page B158. Chemical results from the Graskop WWTW’s effluent outflow for the period April 2013 to March 2015, indicates high concentrations of electrical conductivity, orthophosphate, COD, E Coli and ammonia (IUCMA, 2015).” Eco status of the Sabie Sand River Catchment 2016, Page B151.
In the Cogta Annual Report 2018, signed by P Ngobeni, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee, on Page 19, the Committee requested an explanation on what the Department is doing with regard to the sewer spilling into the river in Dullstroom and Graskop “as it has been reported several times to the Department”. “The Department reported that the Graskop Wastewater Treatment Plant is operating beyond its design capacity resulting in excessive maintenance cost and frequent equipment breakdown. As a short term measure, the municipality is disinfecting the discharge with chlorine granules (HTH) and also in a process of acquiring repair services through quotations.” The technical report was expected to be completed by October 2018.
The facts and figures, reports and documentation available on this continuing problem are staggering. Yet, it seems that nothing is done to ensure the Graskop Wastewater Treatment Plan is fully operational and not just stirring the sewage around a bit and then getting rid of it in the river. Will TCLM take responsibility for this problem? Only time will tell…