Waste water treatment works plant imageIn an effort to combat the pollution of rivers, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has set aside more than R300 million to upgrade 26 dysfunctional wastewater treatment works in parts of Gauteng and the Free State.

This follows fears of untreated sewage flowing into the Vaal River posing a serious threat to the environment and consumers.

In 2015 the department appointed an engineering and consultancy firm to determine if Refengkgotso Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW) in Deneysville contributed to pollution in the Vaal River.

According to the preliminary report released recently, Refengkgotso WWTW, which is managed by Metsimaholo Local Municipality, exceeded its capacity to treat 2 Ml per day by more than 150% by the end of 2015. The plant was receiving average daily inflows of roughly 57 litres per second which amounts to about 5 Ml/d – a significant overloaded.

A technical analysis done on the infrastructure of the plant shows that the quarry to which the non-compliant treated sewage was pumped is small. However, the Metsimaholo Local Municipality undertakes regular maintenance on the facultative pond, two aerobic ponds, biofilter tanks, humus tanks, maturation channels and sludge dry beds as these are in good conditions.

This and other events elsewhere resulted in an emergency intervention being launched by the department to repair 26 dysfunctional WWTWs through the allocation of about R300 million.

Addressing a media briefing at the Bothaville and Viljoenskroon WWTW in the Free State, DWS Project Manager in the Free State Alfred Mbelu said that the refurbishment of the 26 plants would create jobs for locals and have a socio-economic impact as well as environmental spin-offs on the Vaal River.

According to Acting Chief Executive Officer for Vaal Catchment Management Agency Dr Khononani Khorombi, the Vaal River is a strategic water resource that supplies the economic hub of South Africa with water for economic development. The river provides 60% of water to Gauteng and 40% to the rest of the country, making it the lifeblood of South Africa.

“Since the beginning of the year we have met with municipal managers and technical directors from 18 local governments to get to the bottom of the pollution. In these meetings we found that dysfunctional waste water treatment plants were at the heart of pollution of the Vaal. We intervened by taking samples of the polluted system and subsequently we put aside R320 million to address the problem,” Khorombi said.

According to Mfanukhona Hlatshwayo, Director of Internal Control in the DWS, the department will train technicians in the municipalities with a view to transfer skills to local governments to ensure proper management of treatment plants after completion of the project.

The department plans to complete the refurbishment of all 26 plants by December this year.