Government vs environmental group: the water war continues

Environmental group Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) and the Department of Water Affairs continue to trade accusations in the media over the alleged pollution of major water catchment areas in Gauteng, following an investigation carried out by The New Age.

The area under dispute is the Wonderfonteinspruit area, which stretches from Randfontein in the north to Potchefstroom in the south. The FSE, backed by government research, alleges that the spruit has been filled with toxic material from mining operations and that the government had been neglectful in dealing with the issue.

Themba Khumalo from Water Affairs responded by saying his department had undertaken studies into several relevant catchment areas to determine water quality, adding that this quality had improved.

However, Mariette Liefferink from the FSE told The New Age that, although water quality had improved, the DWA had overlooked that the failure to pump water was resulting in the flooding of the East Rand Basin and the Central Rand Basin, “which will have devastating consequences”.

These include contamination of shallow groundwater resources required for agricultural use and human consumption; geotechnical impacts such as the flooding of underground infrastructure in areas where water rises close to urban areas and increased seismic activity.

Khumalo told The New Age that routine chemical and microbiological monitoring programmes were in place in all the different catchments to ensure proper control over sources of pollution.

“It should be mentioned that the whole area under question falls under the Rand Water Board supply area and therefore has access to clean drinking water.”

Liefferink challenged this, saying: “What has been passed over by the respondent is that Potchefstroom does not receive Rand Water and users within the downstream catchment of the West Rand do not receive Rand Water.

“Furthermore, many rural communities and informal settlements are dependent on stream and river water, and boreholes and do not receive Rand Water.”

Khumalo, however, said that nowhere in the world was any water originating from river systems guaranteed to be acceptable for use without some form of treatment.

“People living in the areas with potentially higher risks of radioactive contamination should therefore take care to only use potable water supplied through a municipal network. The onus is on local government to ensure that all people have access to potable water,” said Khumalo.

Liefferink said the problem was a lack of coordination between government departments and buck-passing.

“There is no vertical or horizontal cooperation between organs of state. It has resulted in departments outsourcing their responsibilities and communities bearing the impacts of unregulated mining waste,” said Liefferink.


Please download a detailed document prepared by the FSE, citing reports, research and correspondence. The docment is available here.

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