Disaster at Vaal River caused by Emfuleni officials

Save the Vaal Environment (SAVE), an NGO striving to protect the Vaal River and its environs, obtained a court order in the High Court of Johannesburg on Tuesday 2 June 2009 against the Emfuleni municipality.  Despite strenuous opposition to the application by Emfuleni, Judge John Horn ordered Emfuleni to stop the deliberate sewage spillage into the Vaal River that has been occurring unabated for months.

The judge also ordered Emfuleni to ensure that all effluent let into the River complies with the standards laid down by the Department of Water Affairs. In terms thereof, the ecoli counts may not exceed 1000 ecoli parts per millilitre of water. Ecoli is the indicator of the seriousness of the sewage pollution of the water.

During the past few weeks, it came to SAVE’s attention that the Emfuleni municipality was, once gain, pumping raw sewage into the Vaal River Barrage Reservoir. This was being done despite four previous court orders prohibiting Emfuleni from continuing with its criminal conduct by unlawfully polluting the Vaal River.

Recently, when a SAVE committee member did a random inspection at the Emfuleni Leeukuil waste water works during the night, it became apparent that raw sewage was being pumped into the Vaal River at night. This conduct prompted SAVE to for a fifth time, approach the High Court to interdict Emfuleni. The effluent kills fish and bird life, and releasing raw sewage from the plant is a criminal offence. Sewage in water is also highly dangerous to human health. The previous applications explained the consequences to humans, and the facts were not disputed by Emfuleni.
The disgraceful conduct of Emfuleni by surreptitiously pumping it’s excess sewage into the Vaal at night is exacerbated by its statement to court under oath that an accidental spill occurred on the night when the SAVE representative (Thomas du Toit) discovered the hideous practice. Emfuleni argued in court that the spillage recorded at night by SAVE, was a once-off “non- closure of a valve that cause a spill. Emfuleni challenged SAVE to prove the effluent quality was not compliant at the time the case was heard.

SAVE had new water samples collected from the Leeukuil water treatment works the next day. The results showed that the effluent pumped into the Vaal River far exceeded the standards laid down by the Department of Water Affairs and that the e-coli counts were far outside of the maximum permitted standards.
“Emfuleni’s disingenuous claim that it was an accidental spill a few nights earlier was thus conclusively refuted” said Wepener, Chairman of SAVE.
Emfuleni also argued that SAVE had no locis standi (legal standing) to approach the court for assistance in this matter. Emfulenis attempts to thwart the case with technical defences were “disingenuous and transparent” according to SAVE.
All the technical defences failed and Judge Horn ordered Emfuleni to cease pumping raw sewage into the Vaal River and also ordered Emfuleni to ensure that the effluent which it pumps into the Vaal River complies with the DWAF standards.
“This is the last time that we will tolerate this type of conduct by Emfuleni” Wepener said. “We will now seek to imprison those officials who continue to disregard the court orders. We will teach them that reliance on technical defences cannot hide the truth and their conduct”.
“River users are tired of empty promises and Emfuleni’s total disregard for our health by allowing dirty, untreated water to run into the Vaal River”, Wepener said.

“There are communities who are dependant on the River water for their primary water use and Emfuleni’s total disregard for these people’s basic right to clean water is criminal conduct that must now be addressed in the criminal courts.”

River users who hailed the court order expressed dismay that it was once again necessary to go to court to compel Emfuleni to do properly maintain its waste water treatment plants and to stop polluting the Vaal River.

“We will continue to do water tests (at great cost to ourselves) in weeks and months to come and promise further action by SAVE should we find that Emfuleni continues to disregard the right of the public to a clean River,” said Wepener.
SAVE will now be employing a team of experts to compile a comprehensive report. The report will be used as evidence if it becomes necessary to charge officials criminally.
“We are also tired of begging DWAF to perform their custodian duties regarding water and will take DWAF to court to obtain orders to compel DWAF to fulfil its functions regarding water pollution” said Wepener.



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