Our Burning Planet


Bright blue stream sparks new call for Durban water pollution clampdown

Bright blue stream sparks new call for Durban water pollution clampdown
Garish blue water flows through a stream in the New Germany industrial area, Durban. The stream leads into the Umgeni River before entering the sea at Blue Lagoon. (Photo: Supplied)

Several rivers in Durban have been a muddy brown colour over recent months. But this week, factory workers in the New Germany industrial area were shocked by the vivid blue colour of a local stream that flows into the city’s largest river system.

A local industry worker said he became aware of the pollution at 8.30am on 13 March,  and it was reported to city authorities later that morning with an exact GPS locator pin.

However, more than 24 hours later, the stream was still visibly polluted – albeit running a “lighter” blue colour. The polluted stream off Valley View Road in New Germany flows eastward through Clermont before joining the Umgeni River.

The worker, whose identity is known but who did not wish to be named due to company restrictions on speaking to the media, said he also noticed a strong “toxic or acidic” smell next to the stream.

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“This has been happening for months. At times, the stream runs a pinky-red colour and the next week it is yellow or green. This is wrong, but so many people just seem to shrug their shoulders and accept it as the norm.”

The GPS pin shows that the polluted site is surrounded by a wide variety of factories, light industry and logistics centres.

river durban pollution

A Google Maps screenshot with a red pin showing the pollution site at the corner of Valley View Road and Schafer Road in New Germany.

Our Burning Planet sent queries to the eThekwini municipality on 14 March asking whether any water samples had been collected and if inspectors had been able to trace the visible trail of discoloured water back to its source. No response has been received.

Although industries are authorised to discharge certain effluents into the sewer network for further treatment at municipal treatment works, the national Water Act prohibits pollution discharges directly into streams and rivers.

The bright blue colour seen this week was a highly visible manifestation of pollution in an industrial area, but there is also concern about the continued flow of less visible effluent or pathogenic bacteria from sewer line leaks and poor wastewater treatment following the floods of April last year.

Janet Simpkins, founder of the Adopt-A-River watchdog group, says there is growing anger among residents and businesses over the state of river systems. She says she hopes people are no longer willing to allow the status quo to go unchallenged.

“Various organisations and individuals across the city and KwaZulu-Natal are working towards finding long-term solutions for the poor state of our river systems. We are exploring all possible means of changing the status quo.”

Regular testing

One proven method, she said, was the regular testing and publication of E. coli (sewage bacteria) results by private individuals and non-profit organisations.

“We will continue to test, expose and demand accountability river by river, beach by beach,” said Simpkins.

She was commenting on recent E. coli tests by WaterCAN, an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, which has also written to the eThekwini Municipality to immediately address the “dangerously high levels” of E. coli in the Umbilo River.

WaterCAN and Adopt-A-River conducted a series of E. coli tests both below and above the Umbilo River Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) over a period of six weeks. The collected samples were tested by Talbot Laboratories.

In their letter to the municipality, the two organisations urged the city to inspect, repair and maintain the Umbilo River WWTW. They have also urged the city to identify and repair broken sewerage lines overflowing into the Umbilo River.

WaterCAN’s KwaZulu-Natal representative, Jonathan Erasmus, said the sample results should worry every senior city official whose mandate it is to protect and maintain the city’s water systems.

“City officials’ constant neglect of our waterways could result in them being criminally charged. This is not an idle threat, as there is case law developing around this type of accountability.

“The city needs to take the issue of water safety extremely seriously. In a water-scarce country like ours, the preservation of our water sources should be among the highest priorities of national, local and provincial governments,” said Erasmus. DM/OBP

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    “City officials’ constant neglect of our waterways could result in them being criminally charged.” You jest! SAPS/NPA having enough trouble getting ANC officials into court when caught red-handed with knickers around their ankles. Viva, ANC-looters, Viva!

  • Sharon S says:

    This is shocking — the factories who are illegally dispensing into the water system need to be held accountable – charged adn made FINANCIALLY responsible for the Clean up . The Damage to the Environment – the damage to the Economy ! Where are GOVT officials — why is the issue not being addressed ? Why are officials in KZN allowing the entire area to fall into complete dis-repair — degrading quality of life – denying right to clean water – destroying the tourism industry — this combined with a sewage system about to collaspe – outrageous levels of pollution — and an completely inapt governing municipality is culpible …. it is a disgrace and embarrassment — STOP STEALING AND START REBUILDING FOR YOU HAVE DESTROYED

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if our city officials actually did their job for once. Went along, inspected the river, walked upstream to see where the pollutant is coming from, fine the business and then follow up to make sure they have cleaned up – it really is not that hard to do. If they would just get of their rear ends!

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