Coast KZN

31 May 2020

Pinetown residents frustrated as polluted uMbilo River turns unnatural blue colour

Nathan Craig (Sunday Tribune) Picture: A blue uMbilo River tainted by an alleged chemical spill. Pictures: Supplied

Durban – The Umbilo river has gone from being a black and grey sludge because of sewage to an unnatural cerulean due to alleged chemical dumping. Queensburgh and Pinetown residents, along the uMbilo River, namely from Paradise Valley, Glenpark, Moseley and Dawncliffe are frustrated.

They have sent emails, lodged complaints and made desperate pleas for help which remain unanswered as issues of pollution have become an almost daily occurrence. Residents have compiled spreadsheets with over 70 complaints lodged with eThekwini Municipality and have online folders filled with photographs of the river in various unhealthy states.

Marinus Needham, a long-time Glenpark resident, said the issues were escalating and worsened every day.

“The issues are widespread but in my home, we suffer between 6pm to 8pm every day as a putrid smell wafts from the uMbilo River valley into my home. We are forced to plan our meals around this inconvenience. This property has been my home for over 20 years but this is a new issue.”

Justine Saunders, member of the Pinetown Conservancy and founder of the uMbilo River Watch, said the river flowed through the bottom of her garden and she could not sit idly as the river deteriorated.

“One of the major issues are nearby factories which border the river. They have to comply to regulations in order to dispose of chemical waste but we still have these issues meaning something is not right.”

Desiree Laverne, spokesperson for Greenpeace Durban said they were disappointed and felt the municipality was not bothered by any environmental disasters that involve the uMbilo River.

“The river is always polluted and the culprits just don’t seem to ever be held accountable for their actions. Government is a disaster when it comes to environmental protection or conservation.”

Queensburgh councillor Chris van der Berg said issues of sewerage leaks into the river were ongoing and he always received complaints from residents.

Ward 18 councillor, Melanie Brauteseth said there were compounded issues from the maintenance of the Umbilo Wastewater Treatment Works to outdated sewerage systems and manholes situated around the river.

“Unfortunately, the only response I ever receive is that the municipality has depleted its budget and thus cannot allocate resources to this problem. Which is unacceptable.”

Municipal councillor and eThekwini executive committee member, Yogiswarie Govender, said attempts had been made to escalate the issue but unfortunately, with the lockdown, there had been slow progress.

EThekwini Municipality’s spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the city had not come across any cases of illegal dumping and that most of the investigated issues were traced to infrastructural issues.

“For example, breaks in the sewer lines, and blockages often caused by misuse of the sewer system. We cannot dismiss the possibility of illegal discharges and our team is investigating.”

Mayisela said if a company required to discharge trade effluent, they were required to comply with municipal sewage disposal by-laws.

“Perpetrators caught illegally discharging into the river will be fined and prosecuted. They will also be required to clean up and remediate the entire area affected.”