SANDF withdraws from Vaal River rehabilitation project

Seven pump stations are now operational and 24 are functioning but still require attention

27 January 2020 - 13:41 By ERNEST MABUZA
A land mover clears debris from a blocked section at the Sebokeng water treatment works. The defence force will withdraw its personnel on January 31 after their deployment to rehabilitate the Vaal River system.
A land mover clears debris from a blocked section at the Sebokeng water treatment works. The defence force will withdraw its personnel on January 31 after their deployment to rehabilitate the Vaal River system.
Image: Alaister Russell

After a 15-month deployment, the defence force (SANDF) team sent to clean up the Vaal River system confirmed on Monday it would withdraw its services on January 31 2020.

As a result of its work, seven pump stations are now operational and another 24 are functioning but still require attention.

The Vaal River rehabilitation project began in 2018 after raw sewage flowed into the river from pump stations in the Emfuleni municipality on the northern bank of the river, posing environmental and health risks.

An assessment by the government's intervention team in October 2018 indicated that in order for the treatment plan to be fully operational, defence force engineers were required to perform a number of tasks, including unblocking sewer lines and manholes.

SA army engineer units and regiments under the stewardship of Col Andries Mahapa contributed members and equipment to the project.

More than 500 defence force regular and reserve unit members took part in the project on a rotational basis to provide a range of engineering skills.

Defence and military veterans minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula extended her gratitude to all the SANDF members who were deployed and "contributed their selfless services in the attainment of the objectives of this project".

East Rand Water Care Company (Erwat), a government entity specialising in waste water treatment, was appointed late last year to take over and build on the work started by the SANDF.

Last week, human settlements, water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu visited Emfuleni to receive an update on the progress made by Erwat since coming on site towards the end of last year.

Erwat managing director Tumelo Gopane said a lot of waste water networks in Vereeniging had been cleared. He said this had resulted in the increase of water flow to the waste water treatment plants.

He said before the sewage systems were unblocked, only 20% of waste water could reach the treatment plants, and 80% of sewage flowed into streets, veld and the Vaal River.

In September last year, the environmental organisation Save the Vaal said the pollution of the Vaal River from the Emfuleni local council’s waste water treatment system had been going on for 15 years.

“It became a crisis in late 2017, when the Emfuleni waste treatment system (comprising 2,000km of pipes, 44 pump stations and three waste-water treatment plants) collapsed.

“This resulted in massive pollution of the Vaal River, which is ongoing,” said Save the Vaal  spokesperson Maureen Stewart.


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