Coast KZN

17 Jun 2021

City reveals the reasons behind sewage spills in Durban sea water

Vernon Mchunu (The Mercury: IOL) Picture: Doctor Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA). Wastewater spillages into the sea pose a health and economic hazard to the city of Durban.

DURBAN: Wastewater spillages into the sea, due to pump stations failing, poses a health and economic hazard at the city’s beaches and in the Durban harbour. This emerged during a recent public meeting regarding the matter. It has surfaced that a number of the city’s pump stations are often failing, most commonly due to the rampant loadshedding, causing wastewater spillage into the Durban harbour and local beaches.

The city’s wastewater works’ senior engineer, Lusapho Tshangela, said at the public meeting that failures were a constant feature in a number of pump stations across the city, especially due to loadshedding, and this resulted in wastewater – including sewage – overflows. Tshangela was responding to concerns raised by participants, who included councillors, business operators and representatives from the provincial Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA).

The main pump station at uMhlanga’s McCausland Crescent experienced failure about two weeks ago, resulting in wastewater spillage.

“We are in the process of mitigating the overflows into the harbour. There are many other pump stations that experience overflows,” Tshangela said. About R150 million would be required to install backup generator systems, he added.

“Sewage poses a risk to commercial divers, marine species and recreational port users. After high E. coli counts were discovered in May 2019, TNPA (Transnet National Ports Authority) implemented a ban on all fishing, commercial diving and other marine activities,” said Simphiwe Mazibuko, the port’s environmental manager with the TNPA division.

Mazibuko added that plastic waste and other foreign objects post heavy rainfall are common in the port, making it harder for the cleaning team to cope with the magnitude of waste.

“Furthermore, the waste not only impacts on the aesthetics of the port, it also has a profound impact on port users, the marine and bird life and, alarmingly, it is posing a significant risk to port operations. The solid waste poses a navigational hazard for vessels and can cause mechanical damage to large vessels as well as recreational craft. This results in financial implications for the port,” said Mazibuko.

In partnership with the city and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, TNPA had developed the Estuarine Management Plan (EMP) to help eliminate human-induced stresses on the ecological integrity of Durban Bay.

“One of the key objectives of the EMP is to improve water and sediment quality. The deployment of waste-collection booms in the rivers leading to the port and the periodic cleaning thereof will tremendously assist,” said Mazibuko. The city was in constant engagements with TNPA in an effort to alleviate challenges, Tshangela said.

Representing EDTEA, Omar Parak told the meeting – which was primarily aimed at sharing a report on the extent of sea disposal of sewage around the city – that the wastewater spillage was also often experienced during heavy rains.

Addressing concerns about the safety of bathers, Prisha Sukdeo, acting senior manager for the city’s Pollution and Environment division, said the municipality had a system in place, code-named “Beach Management Protocol”, which regularly warned about overflows.

Tshangela added that as a norm, the beach would be closed to public swimming in case of wastewater spillage from the treatment works.

Bluff-based councillor Zoe Solomon said she was constantly approached by community members wanting thorough information on whether beach closures in some instances were as a result of sewage spills.

“Often you just see signage saying ‘no bathing allowed’, but there’s never a clear indication whether this is a result of sewage spills and how much content of the spillage is in the water. At times, lifeguards have only assisted to warn that swimming should be limited to below the waist, without any further details,” said Solomon.

Professor Anthony Turton, an environmentalist based at the University of the Free State, said remedial action should have been implemented some time ago since both the sewage and the energy challenges had long been around.

“To only now wake up and realise that energy is needed to pump wastewater speaks to the paucity of strategic planning at municipal level. All pumps ought to have an effective and well capacitated electrical backup system as a standard element of design,” said Turton.

“The state is the biggest single polluter of water. It has lost the moral authority to enforce environmental laws, most of which are recognised as world class,” he said.

With regards to the Sea Disposal of Sewage: Environmental Surveys in the Durban Outfalls Region, senior researcher Dr Brent Newman said the study had focused on the outfalls connected to the Southern Waterworks and Central Waterworks in the city.

Newman said the spotlight was placed on offshore water, in which were a variety of chemicals (such as metals), bacteria and viruses with a potential to affect the ecological health of the sea.

Indicators included the presence in the seawater of bacteria normally found in human faeces, as well as concentrations of contaminants such as metals, oils and pesticides in the sea and on the seabed,