Talk of the Town

Alarm over Kowie contaminat­ion

Row erupts after sewage warning

- ADRIENNE CARLISLE DispatchLI­VE (with additional reporting by Sue Maclennan)

Ndlambe Municipali­ty is taking samples from the Kowie River for testing. This is in response to a Makana councillor sounding the alarm over raw sewage from Makhanda contaminat­ing waterways in the area, including the Kowie River.

A public row has broken out between Makana mayor Yandiswa Vara and DA councillor Cary Clark after Clark warned that sewage-polluted rivers around Makhanda had dangerousl­y high bacteria counts that could spark a dire health crisis.

Vara dismissed as inaccurate Clark ’ s claim that the spillage of raw sewage from Makana’s dilapidate­d and largely dysfunctio­nal Belmont Valley municipal wastewater treatment was dangerous for residents of the small city, but conceded it did affect communitie­s living downstream.

This included water supply sources for the Ndlambe municipali­ty.

But, despite taking issue with what she termed the accuracy of Clark’s claims and her habit of putting on her “political cap” to stir panic and “attack” the municipali­ty, Vara admitted that the long-standing sewage situation was “not one to be proud of”.

It seems there is also no light at the end of the foul-smelling tunnel, with the mayor conceding that the R30m available for the coming financial year was too little for a meaningful upgrade of the sewage works.

According to the Makana municipali­ty’s 2021-2022 integrated developmen­t plan, the dilapidate­d biological filter treatment plant is dealing with more than 8Ml of sewage per day, whereas it was built to deal with only about half this.

The IDP plan said it was effectivel­y running at 150% of its built capacity.

Clark says that in fact it is so dilapidate­d that “little to no” treatment of raw sewage is happening before the water is discharged into ecological­ly and culturally important rivers including the Kowie and Blauwkrant­z river systems.

Water is also drawn off these sources to irrigate vegetable farms downstream from Makana.

The municipali­ty’s IDP plans over many years confirm Vara’s stance that the problem is nothing new and has regularly been reported to the council.

In fact, its inability to deal with Makana’s sewage has resulted in a decade-long moratorium on all RDP social housing projects.

The latest IDP plan says that if the treatment plant was properly upgraded it could unlock developmen­t in the area as it would allow the municipali­ty to green-light these long-stalled social housing projects and address the huge and growing housing backlogs.

Vara also slammed Clark as she said her statement had caused panic about the quality of the city’s drinking water, which was unaffected by the dire sewage situation.

She said Clark should rather work with the municipali­ty in disseminat­ing informatio­n about what the municipali­ty was doing about the sewage problem.

But Clark said her statement had never implied the drinking water of the city had been affected by the revoltingl­y high bacteria counts.

“I was clear about the areas tested [that reflected high e-coli bacteria counts],” she said.

“I felt people needed to be warned of the high e-coli counts in our streams.

“The mayor is out of touch if she thinks it does not affect the people of

❝ Vara dismissed as inaccurate Clark’s claim that the spillage of raw sewage from Makana’s dilapidate­d and largely dysfunctio­nal Belmont Valley municipal wastewater treatment was dangerous for residents of the small city


She said she religiousl­y monitored the drinking water and confirmed it was safe to drink.

Clark also confirmed the money set aside was “nowhere near enough make the plant compliant”.

She said it was her job to highlight the problems, not to protect the municipali­ty.

In response to questions from Talk of the Town, Ndlambe Municipali­ty said they had taken note of comments received from the Cogta MEC in response to questions in the legislatur­e.

In a written reply to questions from then MEC Retief Odendaal, Zolile Williams confirmed that untreated waste water from the Belmont Valley Wastewater Treatment Works was contaminat­ing the Kowie River.

Ndlambe spokespers­on Cecil Mbolekwa said, “We are in the process of taking the samples from the source which is the Kowie River weir. It will only be after that process that we will inform the public.” —

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