Coast KZN

09 Mar 2017

Margate environmental disaster

Shona Aylward (South Coast Herald)

Ugu District municipal workers at the overflowing pump station on Monday this week.

Many questions have been raised as to how Ugu District Municipality handled Monday’s sewage spill.

In the wake of this week’s major sewage contamination at Margate’s Nkongweni River, an audit report released last week has revealed that serious and urgent intervention by Ugu District Municipality is needed to prevent an environmental disaster.

This after the Nkongweni River, which flows onto Margate beach, had to be breached by Ugu after a major discharge of sewage into the river on Monday morning this week.

An excavator works through the night to open the polluted river.


According to Ugu District’s spokesman, France Zama, the problem was due to pump failure, caused by a blockage in the drainage line of the pump station. This in turn caused flooding in the wet and dry well which resulted in effluent being discharged into the river.


The breached Nkongweni river mouth.


Both Margate and Lucien beaches are currently closed for bathing. “Residents are urged to avoid contact with water in the lagoon and at Margate beach until the levels of contamination have been certified to be within acceptable standards,” said Mr Zama.

This has also led to rumours of legal action and that Margate’s chances of Blue Flag status may be in jeopardy.


Let’s recap this week’s chain of events:


??It must be noted:

The breached Nkongweni River.


The question on many people’s lips at the moment is why this had been allowed to happened again?

The answer may lie in the water and waste water process audit, released to Ugu District Municipality’s Water and Sanitation Portfolio Committee last week.

Mechanical equipment at all purification plants has deteriorated and most of the equipment has reached a stage where replacement and an upgrade is the only option. All the waste water plants have reached their design lifespan and require upgrade or refurbishment – read the report.
It continued:

The Bhobhoyi and Umtamvuna water purification plants are struggling to cope with the demand and are in the process of being upgraded. Most maintenance work can only be done once the upgrades are completed. Eskom supply capabilities restrict the upgrade of certain facilities such as the Umtamvuna water treatment works. Contract management can be improved to ensure timeous completion of upgrades. Pump station sumps are not being maintained regularly. Silt build-up in the pump station sumps is a common problem at all pump stations. The organisational structure for the process control and mechanical section is not conducive for optimal functioning of Waste Water Treatment Works.


The audit revealed some issues common to all purification plants:

1. Mechanical plants and equipment are generally in a bad state of disrepair.
2. No scheduled/planned maintenance programme is in place.
3. The workload is too much for the maintenance team, due to shortage of skilled fitters and artisans.
4. Funding is inadequate to address all the defects.
5. Process control staff are well trained but are despondent because their hands are tied due to the condition of mechanical equipment.
6. There is shortage of process controllers in most of the waste water treatment works and water treatment works.
7. Supply chain management is crucial in acquisition or replacement of critical equipment.
8. Grass cutting at the work sites remain a challenge.
9. Sewage pump stations which do not have emergency power back-up pose an environment risk.


Cllr Dave Watson responded, saying Ugu had reached an ‘engineering tipping point’. “We are facing an ongoing water crisis and over the years Ugu staff, audit and engineer reports have pleaded for more machinery, logistics and money.

Don’t blame Ugu administration, blame the council for not identifying the problems. Why not scrap events like the Jazz Festival and start prioritizing and addressing the real problems.

“Not once have we heard any Ugu official stand up and say: ‘We have a problem’. Administration on many occasions has identified and reported problems to council but they have failed to address them and come up with a solution,” he added.

“Poor water and sanitation can single-handedly take out the economy and destroy our social status and ultimately our environment.”


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