Municipal

CONTAMINATED SABIE RIVER – ALL THE WAY TO MOZAMBIQUE

Michéle du Plessis

“As usual, the municipal manager of TCLM has not had the courtesy to respond to our many previous communications regarding this matter.  Despite best efforts on the part of the SRA and numerous Engineer’s reports submitted to TCLM, we have not received any meaningful response about a way forward,” Captain Gwilym Rees, Chairman of the Sabie Ratepayers Association (SRA) said.

Captain Rees said that “As you are aware, the Sabie Waste Water Treatment Plant located on the bank of the Sabie River (reportedly one of the last remaining “pristine rivers” in South Africa), flows through the Lowveld and the Kruger National Park before flowing into Mozambique.  There is a trans-border agreement between SA and Mozambique regarding the river water quality.  There are, therefore, a large number of communities downstream of Sabie that are affected by the river water quality.

That is apart from the aquatic life that exists in the river.

The IUCMA and DARDLEA issued directives to TCLM to rectify the dysfunctional Sabie Waste Water Treatment Plant and prevent the further discharge of untreated effluent into the Sabie River.”

Requests to TCLM for comment regarding the fact that as far as the SRA is concerned, they have received no assurance from TCLM about any warning to downstream users regarding water quality, remain unanswered.  This is despite the fact that the communities downstream rely on clean drinking and irrigation water.  Captain Rees remarked that if the municipality had not done so, this was irresponsible and reckless on the part of TCLM.

On June 14th, Ms Matsi, TCLM Municipal Manager, responded to the various communications sent by the SRA. “The email written and directed to, among others, the office of the Municipal Manager regarding the above-mentioned matter bears reference,” Ms Matsi wrote.

“We started reporting defects at the Sabie Waste Water Treatment Plant again in February 2020 to TCLM and other stakeholders. TCLM took no action. Since March this year, we have tried to visit the Plant about once a week, sometimes in the company of IUCMA, once twice also with the DARDLEA “Green Scorpions” and sometimes just the SRA (Richard Salt and myself). After each visit, we send a communication by email to the municipal manager. We have only received one response, viz.; a letter dated June 14th, received by email on June 16th.”

“After the latest inspection on 9th July, the Green Scorpions have now undertaken to refer this matter to their Legal Division for further action.”

In the communication from Ms Matsi, she stated the following: “The mechanical rake is down, the Municipality is aware and the repair work is undergoing. Furthermore, may we bring to your attention that the equipment in question has MANUAL option which is currently being used hence the flow is by no means blocked or restrained.”

Captain Rees confirmed that there is, indeed, a manual option.  “The manual operation is a garden rake that is utilised only sometimes. For the rest of the time, the sewerage flow is re-directed to bypass the rake. As for any evidence that the flow meter has been ordered, we only have the statement from the MM that this has been ordered and will be installed once received.”

Referring to the report from the SRA that the aerator is not functional, Ms Matsi said that “This is not true. All three aerators that have been repaired were in working condition when the reported visit to the Plant was (occurred) and they still are.” Richard Salt, Professional Engineer: “Two of the three aerators should function at all times. In this case, the third aerator was repaired about a month ago and they are now supposed to be switched on in rotation, with two running at any given time.”

GPS News asked Captain Rees if Ms Matsi were accusing them of lying about the functionality of the aerators at the time of the visit/inspection. “Not sure. Either that or she doesn’t understand the fine difference between “operating” and “functional” (there is, indeed, a difference)!” Captain Rees said.

The contractor that is theoretically repairing the SWWTP is Bo-Mamohlala Projects, with the registered address Driekop, Limpopo. “I have attached a pic of his board. That is all I know about the contractor. There is no Site Office. There is no Site Induction. Although it would appear that the contractor attends from time to time, the Plant Operator has said that he doesn’t come every day. Certainly, in our visits over the past months, we have never seen the contractor on Site,” Captain Rees said.

The pumping system that is supposed to send sludge from the clarifier pond to the drying beds has not functioned for over a year, reportedly, because the delivery pipeline is blocked.  Ms Matsi stated in the communication that “A pump that is used to blow the system in the event of the blockage is defective and has been taken for strip and repair. Meanwhile, a hired one will be utilized.” But, according to Captain Rees, the defective pump has not been taken away, there has been no hired pump installed, nor a replacement pump as stated in the MM’s letter dated June 14th.

Regarding the Dosage Pumps: “We are glad to report that the first set has been delivered, installed and dosing is currently taking place while the delivery of the second is awaited and expected soon,” Ms Matsi reported in the communication, now over a month ago. Once again, it seems that this statement is dubious.

According to Captain Rees, “A dosage pump was “installed” several weeks ago, but it didn’t work. It was not connected to the flow meters nor the dosage manifold. A new pump was installed last week; this appears to be working but is not connected to the manifold or flow meters. Therefore, the amount of chlorine being injected is manually set – an arbitrary setting. At this stage, we don’t know whether too much chlorine (thus damaging aquatic life) is being injected, or whether too little chlorine (thus not killing all the bacteria, etc.) is being injected.  So, at this stage, we have no idea about the efficacy of the chlorine injection)”

He went on to say that “Our last communication to the municipal manager was on Friday, 9th July.  We pointed out a few other defects as well, but predictably, we have not received the courtesy of a response”.

Regarding the dysfunctional incinerator: “This item was excluded in the repair that is coming to an end, but it is to be attended to,” Ms Matsi wrote.   Captain Rees advised that according to the Plant Operator, “The Scope of Work of the contractor was very limited”, but we have not seen the document and so we cannot comment further.  Suffice it to say that the municipal manager’s assurance in her letter that the plant would be “fully functional” by 14th June has just not happened.  We are another month down the line, without any satisfactory resolution”.

“The repairs cannot be “coming to an end” because much work needs to be done yet. This work was, according to the MM, expected to be completed by end of business on May 14th, 2021.

“We have scheduled weekly inspections to continue and await water quality test results from the IUCMA but as things currently stand, the plant is anything but “fully functional,”  Captain Rees concluded.

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