Court orders Buffalo City Metro to develop a sewerage repair and maintenance plan
Sewage has been spilling from Nompumelelo township into the Nahoon River Estuary in East London ‘for many years’ without the municipality attending to it, conservationists say. Now a court has ordered the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality to come up with a plan to fix the problem.
The East London High Court has ordered the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality to conduct a comprehensive audit of the existing sewerage infrastructure in Nompumelelo, a township above the Nahoon River estuary, and to develop a repair-and-maintenance plan.
The ruling on Tuesday, 5 April, comes after the Nahoon Estuary Management Forum took the metro to court in February over the water quality of the Nahoon River, a section of which is contaminated by sewage. The forum wants the metro to restore the water to an acceptable level so that people can use the river safely, and not be concerned about health risks.
The estuary is a major tourist attraction in the Buffalo City area and is used for canoeing, boating, fishing and swimming.
The East London High Court also ordered the municipality to develop a contingency plan for accidental sewage spills at Nompumelelo, and to prevent effluent from entering the stormwater system.
The municipality was ordered to develop and implement a planned inspection and maintenance programme for sewerage infrastructure in Nompumelelo and to appoint a social facilitator to engage residents in the proper use of waterborne sanitation and the consequences of improper use.
Christo Theart, the chair of the Nahoon Estuary Management Forum, said sewage has been spilling from Nompumelelo into the Nahoon River Estuary “for many years”, without the municipality attending to the problem.
Nompumelelo is a township on the hill above the Nahoon River estuary in the suburb of Beacon Bay. The township comprises about 2,100 formal houses with waterborne sanitation and about 924 informal shacks around the formal settlement, Theart said. According to the 2011 Census, 7,269 people live in Nompumelelo.
Theart said Nompumelelo drains towards the Nahoon River estuary through two streams: one on the western side that runs past the Christian Centre; and one on the eastern side that runs past NTT Volkswagen, continues through pipes and open-water channels and enters the estuary at a big concrete culvert next to the N2 bridge.
“Sewage is, on many occasions, flowing down these streams and into the estuary because of failing sewerage infrastructure of the municipality. This is evident in dry periods where these two streams run like rivers — not with water, but sewage. Rain water also washes sewage from the large informal settlements situated on the steep banks … into the streams as they do not have access to formal sanitation.”
The metro’s water quality test results for the period 8 February 2021 to 17 May 2021 indicated that 64% of the test samples taken in the estuary at the Nompumelelo culvert tested high for E. coli, Theart said.
He said the highest count recorded was 5,000 counts per 100ml, which is 10 times above the health risk standard determined by the Department of Environment in their publication, South African Water Quality Guidelines for Coastal Marine Waters.
“Rowers of the Border Canoe Club are getting sick from contact with the water in the Nahoon estuary. They report that some sections of the river, especially between Batting Bridge and the Recreation Abbotsford causeway where the Nompumelelo culvert is situated, are almost impossible to paddle. They report that the situation is so bad that sections of the river, sometimes as big as a tennis court, have visible liquid sewage floating on top of the water and resembles a thick brown sludge, leaving rowers battling to breathe due to the stench,” said Theart.
He said the sewage spills from Nompumelelo are the reason for the poor water quality. “The water quality needs to improve in order to develop the Nahoon estuary to its full potential as a major tourism product in the city.”
Theart said Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality had indicated the following problems in reports to its council:
- The inability to maintain the main interceptor sewer that traverses along the stream on the western side of Nompumelelo because informal shacks had been built on it; and
- Residents in formal housing in Nompumelelo not having enough knowledge of waterborne sanitation, which causes many blockages.
“After two years of consultation with the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality, it became evident that they are not going to solve these problems,” Theart said. “They have not provided any solution to the frequent sewage spills from Nompumelelo. They are not monitoring or controlling the growth of the informal settlement and they have not done any advocacy training with regards to the dos and don’ts of waterborne sanitation in this community.”
The forum also asked the court to order the municipality to relocate the informal dwellings on the main interceptor sewer. “This prayer was adjourned sine die, with no date for resumption,” Theart said.
The Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipal Council has approved a feasibility study “to identify suitable land parcels within the urban edge for Nompumelelo township overflow at a meeting held on 15 December 2021. Land parcels in close proximity have been identified that could house all families currently residing in informal dwellings at Nompumelelo,” he said.
Some of the informal dwellings at Nompumelelo are on steep slopes and along water courses, posing a flood and landslide risk, according to the feasibility study approved by the council, Theart said.
“The forum expects the municipality to develop these land parcels as a matter of urgency as they will not be able to monitor and maintain their main interceptor sewer line. The forum will therefore soon resume their prayer relating to the relocation of informal dwellings situated on their main sewer interceptor,” added Theart.
Power and security
Samkelo Ngwenya, the spokesperson for Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality, said the metro planned to provide a dual electricity supply from different supply zones to minimise the impact of load shedding on sewage pump stations.
Ngwenya said the municipality was improving security at all pump stations and wastewater treatment works. “The municipality operates 95 sewage pump stations. Providing standby generators and security personnel for all is an expensive responsibility,” he said.
He said the upgrades were first being done at the wastewater treatment works and large pump stations that had a direct impact on households when they did not function.
“Accordingly, we have provided standby generators at the Reeston and Zwelitsha wastewater treatment works, and [have] improved electricity supply at a pump station in Cambridge location. We are planning a few others in the new financial year,” Ngwenya said. “The negative impact on this target in the last two years is mainly due to Covid-19 regulations and pump stations affected by the rolling out of load shedding.” DM/OBP