Polluted rivers are health risk for water users
"Environmental rights groups have expressed concern about the state of the country’s rivers following a report made to Parliament last week."
Briefing parliament’s Water and Environmental Affairs portfolio committee, water affairs acting chief director for water resources information management, Moloko Matlala, listed the main problems affecting the quality of the country’s river water.
Microbiological tests in June found that KwaZulu-Natal’s river systems were badly affected by pollution, he said.
Those who used rivers for recreation, consume the water, or used it to water crops all faced health risks.
“Water from these rivers, if drunk untreated, poses a high risk to those consuming the water due to the presence of Escherichia coli (more commonly known as E.Coli),” he said.
The Waterval, Blesbokspruit, Natalspruit and Klip rivers were also affected by effluent from waste water treatment plants and industries, he said.
Matlala said the Umgeni River had high phosphate levels due to poultry farms, effluent from cattle feed lots and informal settlements without sanitation facilities along its banks and feeder streams.
The Umlazi River was also heavily affected by sewage discharged into it.
Head of Greenpeace International Kumi Naidoo said saving the rivers required more involvement on the part of the community.
“If people put more pressure on the local government and help in the clean up of rivers and they work together, the rivers can be saved,” he said.
Implementation of policy, he said, sometimes required a push from the people.
A research assistant and Masters Student in Environmental Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Kamleshan Pillay, agreed with Naidoo, saying it was possible for the rivers to be rehabilitated.
“In time these systems are able to heal themselves – our duty at this stage is just to make sure they are not polluted further,” he said.
Bobby Peek, of the environmental group Groundwork, said the problem was bigger than managing the pollution.
“The government needs to make sure it provides functional sanitation facilities to people in informal settlements so that untreated waste does not make its way into rivers,” he said.
Industry discharging effluent into rivers also needed to be policed more strictly, he said.
Duzi Umgeni Conservation Trust chairman Dave Still said his organisation was aware of the pressure rivers were facing.
“More investment in the refurbishment and building of infrastructure is needed to contain and manage the problem,” he said.
The department’s acting deputy director-general for water resources management, Mbangiseni Nepfumbada, was unable to say whether the health of the country’s rivers was improving or getting worse.
“The water quality of some areas are not monitored regularly, or not at all, due to human and financial constraints.”
He said it “needed to be looked at”, adding that little data was immediately available.