Problems with sewage at Klerksoord much greater than suspected

Henry

The mayor of the Tshwane metro, Cilliers Brink, responded on Friday to residents and businessmen in the north of Pretoria to inform him of the huge problems with sewage in the area.

RNews previously reported that residents and business people of Klerksoord are at a loss about sewage that has been flowing down the streets and even between office buildings for more than three months.

Inge Vos, a staff member at the Oakley Group in the area, says they have to endure the most disgusting smells on a daily basis and don’t even know what fresh air smells like anymore.

“The smells that come out here are unbearable; we can’t open our windows, our parking lot is flooded with sewage, we can’t even use our bathrooms.”

Following RNews’s report, the Pretoria Chamber of Commerce put further pressure on the Tshwane metro council to help tackle the problem.

However, after efforts were made to solve the problem, streams of raw sewage soon began to flow out again, an indication that the problem is much bigger than initially suspected.

Christo Bester, spokesperson for the Pretoria Chamber of Commerce, has described the situation in Klerksoord as an environmental crisis and says the origin of the problem must be found so that a sustainable solution can be found.

“It has come to light that the contractor to whom an emergency contract of millions of rand has been approved has no effect on the crisis, on the contrary it appears that the crisis only worsens and that the sewage drains directly into a storm water channel, from where it joins natural river drains and finally ends up in the Bon Accord Dam.

“It seems that a sewer system that stretches over 3.6 km has been completely blocked for months. This causes the raw sewage to rise up and flood everywhere.”

Bester says that in places where the worst sewer flooding is, proverbial band-aids are stuck on the problem instead of solving the whole issue.

“The fact that no steps are being taken to stop the sewage flowing directly into the storm water channels is worrying. With the low water table in the area, there is already an environmental crisis in the Klerksoord area, but it is now spreading further to possibly Bon Accord Dam.”

Temporary solutions that are now being used are to divert the streams of sewage by means of ditches to a nearby field to at least keep it out of the streets and business premises.

“This is a breach of the Water Act, as well as the Environmental Management Act; what is being done is not working, so what is the solution?”

Bester says they realize that the water situation in the whole city is actually in a state of emergency, but in cases where environmental pollution occurs due to infrastructure collapses, there is strong case law against municipalities that do not prioritize it.

“In May last year, the Rand West City municipality in Gauteng was fined R10 million for sewage pollution and as recently as June this year, the Lekwa municipality in Mpumalanga was fined R70 million for similar offences.

“We have to find out where the problem starts in Klerksoord; we need to examine the entire 3.6 km canal and identify the problem areas,” says Bester.

Victor van der Merwe, also a staff member at the Oakley Group, says he has tried to identify the origin of the sewage water that ends up between their buildings several times with the help of a drone. However, air traffic and power lines prevent him from getting a conclusive answer.

“The further you fly up, the more sewage you see, the greener the water becomes, the dirtier it is; this is where the problem starts, the Tshwane metro needs to start cleaning up there.

“The helicopter will be able to give us a better idea about the extent of the problem, the mayor should come and see, so that we can determine what we can do about this.”

Brink visited the area on Friday and was taken over the area with a helicopter, which the Oakley Group hired, to get an overall picture of the problem.

Brink and the concerned residents then openly and honestly discussed challenges and possible solutions.

Nomsa Mabasa, director for water and sanitation of region 1, of which Klerksoord forms part, accompanied Brink to the event to outline the finer details and planning of the solution.

“The scale of the problem is much bigger than we thought it was. Apart from the manhole covers being stolen again and again, we don’t know where the blockage starts,” says Mabasa.

“When we started receiving complaints about the blocked manhole in Diamant Street earlier this year, it looked like we could resolve the situation, but after repeated attempts the problem kept returning.”

According to Mabasa, there are about 20 manholes in the storm water channel and the rainfall later prevented access to any of these manholes.

“When we finally got the opportunity to open the blocked manhole, we realized the problem was much bigger than we thought.

“The manholes located in the storm water channel have basically become inaccessible. It will require equipment worth millions of rand to clean the storm water channel before we can get to the blocked manholes.”

Mabasa says a budget of R1.4 million has already been approved for the project and that workers on the scene are busy cleaning the water channel. According to Bester and Brink, this does not seem to be enough for a sustainable solution.

“If the community does not lend a hand to help provide the necessary equipment or capital for the project, Klerksoord can continue to deal with the problem for months and the environment in the north of Pretoria will only further deteriorate into sewage,” says Bester.

According to Brink, the community’s involvement is essential for a sustainable solution.

“The metro cannot solve these kinds of problems by itself, we depend on well-organized communities; our effectiveness depends on the participation of communities.

“We are not walking away from our responsibilities, we just know we cannot do it alone. We want to join hands with the community so that we can solve the problem.”

Natie Schwartz, technical manager of the Oakley Group, says he is grateful that the mayor could see for himself how big the problem really is.

“I’m glad the ball is at least now rolling; now we just have to make sure things get done.”