Kathy Manten from Manten Marina discusses the future of the Dam’s seven sailing clubs and four marinas in the wake of sewage deluge
What is the latest situation?
The sewage spills continue at this stage and are likely to do so for some time to come. The Waste Water Treatment Plant is unable to cope with the large amount of sewage. It was in the process of being upgraded to cope with more but due to “ïssues” between the municipality and contractor, the contractor left the site about two years ago and work on the waste water treatment plant was halted.
Has the municipality started work on the (new) pipeline? (to cope with the volume of sewage)
No – the partial pipeline that was laid when the town residents stopped it is still there but has not been opened to the dam in “Ratepayers Bay”. The current sewage spills are diverted by trenches (dug by Metsimaholo) to divert the sewage. Some of it goes into the Vaal Dam via a trench which bypasses the pump station and flows through a farmer’s field and into the dam near Lake Deneys Yacht Club. The other sewage runs via trenches and then spills into farmland and runs over the land for +- 15 km where it eventually runs into the Taaibos spruit and from there into the Vaal River.
How is the water quality now?
Water quality is not critical now however it is definitely compromised with blue-green algae increasing and spreading all over the dam. Sewage flows into the dam from all municipalities, farms etc that are upriver from the Vaal. We are also dealing with acid mine drainage in the river below the dam (and I am sure to a lesser extent above the dam).
Is the main issue the sewerage spills?
Yes – although not always obvious as the Vaal is a very large body of water and government’s standard means of dealing with waste water is dilution into rivers and dams. Not an immediate threat but cumulatively pollutes our whole world and definitely our ecology.
Has water quality been deteriorating over the years?
Have you tried to engage the municipality to address the issue?
I have been fighting these issues for over five years. Been on Carte Blanche three times, written copious letters and had numerous site visits with DWS and Municipal employees.
It sounds like the municipality is also in arrears with addressing other issues in town, such as potholes. So is the water treatment problem part of a bigger problem?
Yes Lack of will, funding, graft and perhaps a lack of technical ability due to jobs for pals.
How does all of this impact on the marina and your members?
Not an immediate impact other than the prolific blue-green algae which causes a horrific stench of noxious gases and depending on the wind direction affects the water in the harbour and immediately outside the restaurant making eating and drinking very difficult. Blue-green algae is also toxic to fish and animals and is disgusting if you want to swim in it.
Is the municipality concerned about this?
I don’t get the feeling that they are concerned as it takes a lot of letters and moaning to get them to come out. To date, they have not held one municipality or official accountable for the sewage. After all the publicity with the army being appointed to clean up the Vereeniging Waste Water treatment works, that issue still remains and has not been adequately repaired.
Does it retard the growth of the club and the ability to generate income?
I am not sure – numbers of sailors wane every year. There are a host of factors that lead to that and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what the main reasons are. It does affect income to a certain extent but becomes more of an issue at certain times as it does now when the dam is only 30.49% @ 11:00 this morning. As a business, we are fortunate to repair boats hand in hand with running a club/marina so we make plans and are innovative.
Have you tried to go to other government / civil society groups to try and address the problem?
Yes – DWS, Dept Environment, Public protector a long time ago – no joy). I also represent SAVE the Vaal Environment as their representative on the dam. I attend quarterly Vaal River Forum meetings hosted by DWS where people are supposed to bring issues up and use the collective, knowledge, skills and contacts to solve the issues. Sadly, the municipalities, although expressly invited, do not ever attend these forum meetings as they find they have the same lack of improvement from one year to the next and no doubt it is embarrassing being called out time and again for lack of compliance. The issue also ties in with the Department of Human Settlements which either does not have enough money or is not spending it where it is required. They move large numbers of settlers into areas without first providing the infrastructure capable of servicing these large settlements. As we know, this is part of South Africa’s history. I unfortunately do not see the money spend on basics like waste water treatment. You can drive to most municipalities and find the same dysfunction everywhere.
What about water level of the dam?
Yes. At about 45% many of the marinas and clubs need to take their vessels out of the water or out of their harbours and store them either on the hard on trailers or cradles (at great expense) or to put their vessels onto swing moorings where they are more vulnerable to storms.
Or will we see things return to normal in the summer rainfall season?
With any luck. More rain is forecast but normally only starts to fill the dam in December. The El Nino system should be lifting and its effect lessening in this area. There is a cycle over a number of years that seems to be followed between La Nina and El Nino.