Coast KZN

15 Jan 2014

Outrage over KZN’s dirty rivers

Tony Carnie (The Mercury)

Dismayed by the latest major fish kill in the Isipingo River lagoon, coastal watchdog groups have called for an independent probe. Photo Credit: Independent Newspapers

Dismayed by the latest major fish kill in the iSipingo River lagoon in south Durban, coastal watchdog groups have called for independent experts to probe the repeated pollution of estuaries along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline.

Di Dold, the chairwoman of Coastwatch KZN, said the latest incident, in which pollution caused the deaths of thousands of fish in the iSipingo River mouth last week, was just one of a series of cases involving sewage and chemical pollution from municipalities and industries.

“It drives me insane that so many people see our rivers and the sea as a great, big dumping ground. This type of pollution goes on and on and the culprits always seem to have some sort of excuse,” she said.

“We are tired of all the excuses and hope that in 2014 there will be a concerted effort to find a proper solution.”

Dold suggested that the Water Research Commission and other independent experts form a working group to ensure a long-term solution.

Noting that there had been numerous municipal sewage leaks, especially along the South Coast, Dold also urged national and provincial inspectors from the Green Scorpions to hold municipalities to account for these leaks, linked to crumbling infrastructure.

“These problems are not just in eThekwini. It’s happening all the way down the coastline.”

Last week, eThekwini blamed the Isipingo fish kill on a combination of pollution from an unnamed company in the Prospecton industrial area and a sewage leak from the municipality’s Joyner Road pump station.

Municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng blamed the sewage leak on metal thieves, saying they had stolen a metal bracket, leading to the collapse of a 400mm sewage pipe.

He said “action” had been taken against the company, but he failed to divulge its name, the type of pollution involved, and whether the company had been fined or given a written warning.

The Mercury has sent follow-up questions to the city seeking the reasons for municipal officials being reluctant to name and shame the company.

The Mercury has also asked the city to clarify whether the municipal sewage leak or the illegal industrial effluent discharge was the primary cause of the fish dying.

A cursory search of The Mercury’s archives shows repeated reports on pollution of the iSipingo estuary dating back to the early 1970s.

A scientific report by Umgeni Water and other expert groups in 2002 recorded E coli (a sewage bacterium) readings of up to 10 million units in this river, whereas the safe bathing limit at the time was about 130 units.

When the river turned orange in 2007, iSipingo lawyer Larry Singh traced the discoloration to the back door of the Toyota car assembly plant in Prospecton.

In 2008, river scientist Mark Graham reported that several rivers in the eThekwini region were little more than “open sewers”.

In the same year, eThekwini officials reported that sewage was flowing into the iSipingo River at the rate of 18 million litres a day after a heavy thunderstorm burst sewage lines in Umlazi. In October 2008, a fish kill in the iSipingo lagoon was attributed to a combination of overflowing municipal sewage and industrial effluent from a company in Prospecton. eThekwini said at the time it would take “action” against the company, but refused to name it.

Three years ago, Coastwatch also lamented the failure of government departments and local industries to disclose information on the volumes and types of effluent being pumped into the sea off Durban through offshore pipelines.

“It is a serious concern that information directly affecting the health of the marine environment should be withheld,” Coastwatch officials said.

“The communication of the nature and significance of water quality impacts is mandatory under the licences granted to most outfall operators and… we question the reluctance of government and industry to permit access to the information.”


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