Dept of Water takes charge of Newcastle, KZNs water pollution issues

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

For too long now, raw sewage and other pollutants have been allowed to flow freely into Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal’s water supplies.

Not in the sense of just a leaking pipe or some overflow after heavy rains. No, across the town, at various points, mass volumes of raw sewage pour into rivers.  

One such example can be found on Tweefontein Farm. On 7 June 2021, the Newcastillian – Online News reported how raw sewage had been pumping into the Nguma River before flowing into the Ncandu River. A water source running through the town and into vast township areas. 

Baring in mind, this issue has been ongoing for over a decade.

At the time, the Newcastle Municipality explained it had interventions to stop the sewage flow. However, the government entity admitted the said interventions were not necessarily a permanent solution but assured the matter would be resolved.

Click here to read the full article: Raw sewage pumps into Newcastle river system for over a decade

At a second site, between the Harding Cemetery and Van der Bijl Street, more raw sewage flows into the Ncandu River. The Newcastillian – Online News reported on the matter on 15 July 2021.

According to sources who work in the vicinity, the Newcastle Municipality began working on ageing infrastructure back in 2019. During the construction work, sewage was diverted to the river system, while pools of faeces collected in other areas where the Municipality had dug. Suddenly the work came to a halt, with sewage still flowing into the nearby river.

At the time, the Newcastle Municipality’s Technical Services Department denied the allegations of work being paused, stating that the project was not stopped but was temporarily halted to reprioritise the Municipality’s financials.

Click here to read the full story and the Municipality’s response: Raw sewage flows into Ncandu River, following maintenance work on Van Der Bijl Street, Newcastle Municipality responds

While the Municipality assured certain means were taken to avoid further sewage spillages, raw sewage continues to flow into the river.

Local conservationist Kaveer Singh explains the sewage flowing into the Ncandu River is a significant cause for concern. This is due to the impact it has on the environment and the people of Newcastle. Further stating, “The river runs through the entire town.”

Singh points out that he has reported the matter to the Newcastle Municipality on numerous occasions and is troubled that local officials have allowed the issue to slide. “We are one of the few towns with a river running through it, something needs to be done.”

The most recent article on 7 September 2021 once again addressed another site of concern. As reported on by the Newcastillian – Online News, Amcor Dam’s waterfall embankment flowed with a “magical foam” complemented by a horrendous smell.

At the time, Angus Burns, Senior Portfolio Manager at WWF South Africa, explained that while it is difficult to establish the exact cause without analysing the water, he suspected that with the heavy rains, a lot of pollution (sewage and chemical) washed into the river, causing the foam.

Read the full article here: Newcastle’s Amcor Dam’s waterfall overflows with “magical foam”

As water pollution remains a constant in the Newcastle community, with very little being done to remedy it, the Newcastillian – Online News approached the Department of Water and Sanitation for resolution.

In August 2021, the Department committed to implementing measures to address water pollution and drinking water quality in SA.

This includes the Department taking enforcement actions against municipalities, which have violated the water legislation concerning wastewater treatment works. Enforcement actions include administrative, civil, and criminal actions.

The spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, Sputnik Ratau, explains the Department is fully aware of the situation in Newcastle. Further assuring, they are now dealing with the matter.

Assuring commitment to addressing water pollution in the Northern KwaZulu-Natal town—Ratua then stipulated the Department’s steps to address the problem. “The Department continues to utilise all administrative resources available through the National Water Act and the Water Services Act to regulate and monitor the municipal water and waste water services.”

As the State of the Nation Address earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the government is driven to revive the Blue and Green drop certification programmes. 

Ratau says a statement was released by the Department on 17 August 2021 highlighting that along with the punitive measures provisioned in the National Water Act. The Department is starting the rollout of the Green Drop and Blue Drop regulation programmes.

“The programmes measure municipal system performance against the most important indicators for sustainable, safe water and wastewater service delivery, with water quality management scoring the biggest weight. In this programme at least 76 wastewater systems in KwaZulu-Natal will be assessed against the Green Drop requirements in this Financial Year. Wastewater treatment systems’ collection infrastructure are included in these identified systems.”

Considering this, as soon as the Department received the alert about the water pollution in Newcastle, it verbally directed the Newcastle Local Municipality to take all reasonable measures to prevent this pollution from continuing. 

Furthermore, Ratau assured Newcastillians, “The Municipality has been further directed to contain and prevent the movement of pollutants, and remedy the effects of the pollution. The Department will visit the site to confirm that these short-term measures have been implemented. Following the site visit the Department will monitor the implementation of their medium- and long-term measures.”

In addition, he explained that specific steps need to be taken to resolve the matter. “The immediate measure is diagnosis of the cause of these recurring sewer overflows within the municipal reticulation system, followed by the implementation of mitigation measures. A long-term measure includes investigation of the capacity of the reticulation network.”

Confirming Newcastle residents concerns, Ratau notes that pollution negatively affects peoples’ standard of living, health, and livelihood. It cripples the economy and compromises resources and aquatic life.

The sewage impacts the community in several facets. Along with people relying on clean water, especially amidst the pandemic, Ratau explains the Department will again be addressing the Newcastle Municipality (as a Water Services Authority). “The Department had been in continuous engagement with the Municipality on these issues. Solutions had been short-term and led to the recurrence of the issue,” he says.

Going a step further, the Department’s spokesperson emphasises, “The Department would like to assure the people of Newcastle and its neighbouring areas that the Department does not take the matter lightly, and is already being followed up. The Department continues to apply pressure on the Municipality for the issues to be resolved by following the available Enforcement Protocol to make sure that this matter gets resolved and does not recur.”

In addition, he stresses, the most recent inspections of the wastewater treatment systems of Newcastle were conducted on the week of 3-7 August 2021.

As a short-term measure, the Department, along with the Municipal Water Services Management and the Operations and Management Team, visited various sites. During the inspections, they noted that many pump stations were overflowing. 

The stations were then reported to the Municipality, and the local entity unblocked them immediately.

According to Ratau, engagements with the Municipality further reflected that certain Department’s Directives had been paused but would now be reactivated.

The spokesperson says, “The Municipality cited that projects had been halted due to financial constraints.”

However, he assured the Municipality has committed to the following:

Van Der Bijl Sewer Line Replacement

  • The project has since been allocated funding through the Operations and Maintenance budget for Financial Year 2021/22, as it has been identified, through the approved Maintenance Plan, for the same Financial Year, as one of the priority projects.
  • The project initiation will be accelerated and be brought forward as a mitigating factor to curb the pollution to the environment. It is anticipated that this project phase should be concluded before year-end and overseen by the Sewer Reticulation Management Office.
  • Every endeavour will be made to ensure that spillage from this line is minimised while a permanent solution is sought.

Tweefontein Farm Sewer Line

  • What has been identified as the possible contributing factor to the spillage issue at this sewer line is the Tweefontein Sewer Pump Station operational challenges. The following measures have been put in place to address this issue:
  • From the panel of contractors on the maintenance framework contract, a service provider is being procured to address the electrical and mechanical maintenance problems currently affecting the operation of this pump station. As per the Municipality’s response/commitments. This should be concluded by the end of September 2021.
  • Procurement process for the two new additional pumps will commence in earnest and should be concluded in two months. This will assist in preventing the pump station from experiencing operational failures. This will be through the maintenance of plant and pump stations operations vote of which funding is allocated.

Improved operations oversight for this pump station will be implemented to prevent or minimise operational failures.

Amcor Dam Waterfall

  • It is understood that once the spillage along Van Der Bijl is sorted, the foaming of the Amcor Dam waterfall will be prevented.
  • There are, however, two other sewer pump stations along the Ncandu River and before Amcor Dam waterfall, which will have to be closely monitored operationally. To ensure that they do not contribute to the foaming of the waterfall. 

The pump stations in question are Newcastle Sewer Pump Station Number Two and Ncandu Sewer Pump Station.

Ratau says the Department has requested a detailed Action Plan with specific deliverables and time frames from the Newcastle Municipality to monitor progress in measurable milestones.

As the Department of Water and Sanitation keeps a close eye on the water situation in Newcastle, what are your thoughts? 

Share your views in the comment section below.

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