While the army has been called in to help clean the heavily polluted Vaal River, water quality in the dirty Duzi continues to deteriorate.
And while the Vaal River is seeing E. coli counts currently of 24 196 per 100 ml in the Vaal Barrage Reservoir area of over 50 kilometres, sampling on the Duzi reveals E. coli levels 10 times higher. (See graphic on Page 2)
Seeping sewers which aren’t being fixed promptly have been partly blamed for the deteriorating water quality of the Duzi over the past two years.
A source within the water quality industry, who asked not to be named, said the City is taking much longer to fix leaking sewers and manholes than previously.
He said the water quality had deteriorated “significantly” recently.
“It’s quite tragic and shocking.”
Shami Harichunder of Umgeni Water said water quality does vary naturally during the course of a year.
“However, Msunduzi River quality over the past two years — 2017/18 — appears to have deteriorated when compared to previous years. This is evidenced in the outcomes of E. coli — or Esterichia coli — monitored as a general indicator at 18 sample sites throughout the Pietermaritzburg area.”
Harichunder said notable elevation in E. coli results had been recorded in the Pietermaritzburg area of the Msunduzi River, both in terms of the number of sample sites recording above 10 000 E. coliper 100 ml, as well as the magnitude of the results.
“In 2017/18, the number of sample sites that recorded results greater than 10 000 ml amounted to 61. In 2016 this figure was 33.”
But he said this was because in 2016 the entire Mgeni System catchment — of which the Msunduzi River is a component — had been in a state of water shortages caused by drought.
“In times of drought, river water quality is generally of a higher standard due to reduced volumes of run-off and consequently reduced presence of E. coli and other contaminants. In the first quarter of 2018 good rains led to increased run-off volumes in the Mgeni System catchments, including the Msunduzi River. Run-offs are generally accompanied by heightened levels of contaminants, including E. coli, resulting in deterioration of water quality.”
Msunduzi River quality of 2017-18 can also be attributed to a number of other factors, including challenges relating to sewer and infrastructure in the city area and challenges associated with effluent quality from Darvill Wastewater Works, said Harichunder.
In January this year, out of the 16 river sites tested, 10 of the rivers’ E. coli results came back higher than 10 000 (10 000 E. coli particles per 100 ml of water). On October 10 this year, 13 of the 16 sites were recorded as having E. coli levels above 10 000 per 100 ml of water.
The water quality of the Duzi is tested throughout the year.
This year so far, the tests have shown that just over 59% of the times the Duzi and its tributaries were tested, the levels were above the 10 000 particle level.
Harichunder said one particular problem area is upstream of Darvill sewage works as a result of inputs from the Baynespruit stream.
He said the stream is experiencing a high level of pollution.
However, it is not all bad news for the water quality of the Duzi.
Harichunder said proactive measures are “continuously implemented to manage water quality risks in the river”.
“Water quality data and other information are provided to various stakeholders, including the Department of Water and Sanitation and local and district municipalities.
“In a proactive move, Umgeni Water has begun preparations to undertake additional river and dam monitoring in the period preceding the 2019 Dusi Canoe Marathon.
“Monitoring will be increased from weekly to twice weekly and then even daily just before and during the marathon at key river and dam sample points, including upper Msunduzi, Camps Drift, downstream of the Baynespruit and Darvill waste water works, Eddie Hagan and Inanda Dam.
“Data will be provided to regulators, municipalities and other key stakeholders to assist with identification, resolution and management of problems that may pose challenges to recreational fitness for use. However, in the weeks ahead, water quality is expected to further improve through the predicted good rains in December 2018-January-February 2019 and dilution through water releases from Henley Dam.”
Harichunder said Umgeni Water has begun preparations to undertake additional river and dam monitoring in the period preceding the 2019 Dusi Canoe Marathon.
Harichunder added that the Darvill sewage works is being upgraded in a R950 million expansion project.
He said the upgrade will take the treatment capacity from 60Ml/d (megalitres per day) to 100Ml/d.
“After construction, the intention is to achieve compliance of 90%, in line with requirements for Green Drop certification (excellence in wastewater treatment plant operation).
He said “significant work” is being done to make sure the plant operates smoothly during the upgrade process.
The Msunduzi Municipality had not responded to media queries.
Duzi now 'a health hazard'
Local canoeist Steve Curry said he had been paddling on the Duzi for the past 30 years, however, he said the water quality over the last two years was the worst he had experienced.
Curry said he has to be extra careful getting in and out of the water and tries to keep water from splashing on to him while paddling.
“My daughter is 15 and she is doing the Dusi with me next year but I am terrified she is going to get sick and never want to compete again,” said Curry. “The water quality has been immeasurably better in previous years. If things continue as they are, I fear there could be a cholera outbreak or some ecological disaster,” he said.
“People still cannot believe that we still take part in the Dusi, but it is becoming a bit of a health risk.”
Almost three weeks ago, the Camps Drift to Bishopstowe Canoe Race, one of the Dusi seeding races, was held. Curry said he pulled out of that race purely because of how bad the water quality was.
“A friend’s son took part in the race and he has been very sick ever since.”
Curry said the pollution of the river could all be prevented if leaks and blockages were fixed on time and if people paid more attention, which “they choose not to do”.
Meanwhile, The Witness reported on a massive sewer leak pouring into the Duzi at Camps Drift last week.
Msunduzi municipal spokesperson Ntobeko Ngcobo said on Thursday last week that the water and sanitation unit was aware of the sewer leak in Camps Drift and “they are attending to it”.
Another local paddler, Gavin Dundas-Starr, said he had walked by the leak on Saturday morning and it was still “flooding out at full force”.