Mashudu Netsianda Senior Reporter
BULAWAYO City Council (BCC) says it is deliberately discharging raw effluent into water bodies which provide potable water to residents as a way of trying to contain sewer from spilling all over the city.
This is in response to a court application by Environmental Management Agency (Ema) suing BCC for failing to upgrade the city’s water treatment plants and sewer systems, which has resulted in raw sewage flowing into rivers and streams which feed into dams that supply potable water to residents.
Ema wants the court to direct council to repair its sewer pipes and water treatment plant to ensure proper treatment of effluent before discharge into the environment.
Ema, through its lawyers — Dube, Manikai and Hwacha Legal Practitioners — recently filed an application at the Bulawayo High Court citing BCC and town clerk Mr Christopher Dube as respondents. The agency is seeking a prohibitory and mandatory interdict against the local authority to immediately stop discharging raw sewage into rivers and streams.
Ema said non-compliance by the local authority is causing pollution to Umguza Dam which is located downstream of the Aisleby 3 Sewer Treatment Plant.
In her opposing affidavit, BCC chamber secretary Mrs Sikhangele Zhou said the council has not been carelessly discharging raw effluent into rivers and streams.
“Due to our limited resources, we have not completed the relevant sewerage treatment works. Rather than allow the raw effluent to spill all over the place in Bulawayo, we were forced to contain it by discharging the same into rivers and streams,” she said.
“In other words, the discharge could not be completely prevented, but it was a way of minimising its effects and containing it while a permanent solution is being pursued.”
Mrs Zhou said council was doing everything possible and within its powers to address the issue of raw effluent fl owing into rivers.
“I note that the applicant (Ema) does state that what we are doing is in contravention of section 57 of the Environmental Management Act. On the contrary, what we are doing is in tandem with the principles espoused in section 4 (2) of that Act,” she said.
Mrs Zhou said council is trying to minimise the negative impact on the environment by controlling effluent in that manner.
“Yes, there is still some environmental damage but the magnitude of that damage is a small price to pay compared with allowing the effluent to spill all over Bulawayo. That would be catastrophic.”
“I therefore conclude that the applicant’s case is still born and should not have been subject of this application.”
Ema said since 2011, BCC has been largely responsible for the pollution of water by carelessly discharging raw effluent into rivers and streams such as the Bulawayo Spruit River, commonly known as Mazai River and Matsheumhlophe, which are critical water sources that provide potable water and are used for agricultural purposes for downstream communities.
In his founding affidavit, Ema’s director for environmental protection unit, Mr Christopher Mushava said BCC is mandated in terms of Section 168 of the Urban Councils Act to ensure the treatment of raw sewage effluent generated within its jurisdiction and to provide potable water to residents. He said the council was contravening the Urban Council’s Act by failing to treat its raw sewage and to provide potable water to residents for years.
Mr Mushava wants an order directing the council to rehabilitate, repair and upgrade its water treatment plants and sewer systems to ensure proper treatment of effluent before discharge into the environment and water bodies as well as ensuring the licensing of any discharge of the effluent in terms of the Ema Act.
He said BCC’s actions were in violation of the Act, which prohibits the discharge of pollutants into water bodies.
Council’s challenges are compounded by the sewer and water reticulation system, which is not fully functional. More than 60 percent of the city’s sewer treatment plants are operating beyond
the design capacity against an increased volume of effluent due to the increase in population and expansion of residential areas.
This has resulted in high incidences of sewer bursts posing a serious health hazard to human and aquatic organisms.
Mr Mushava said despite the numerous fines it has paid, BCC continues to pollute the environment, exposing residents to risk.
“Despite the issuance of various orders and tickets as well as the criminal court proceedings, the situation is still deplorable. The local authority has 10 sewer treatment plants and only two are non-operational while the eight are partially working. Resultantly, 40 percent of generated sewer effluent is not reaching the sewer treatment plants due to sewer pipe collapse,” he said.
Mr Mushava said Ema has conducted inspections in areas like Sauerstown where rehabilitation of the deep section sewer has not been done including Silver Crescent in Kelvin West where there is continued discharge of sewage. At Sauerstown, all the sewage effluent which is supposed to be trunked through a section is being discharged into Bulawayo Spruit River.
Mr Mushava said BCC has failed to take measures of prioritising the proper treatment and disposal of sewage in violation of Ema Act and Regulations, Urban Councils Act and the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
“Such actions have violated the rights of citizens of Bulawayo and other districts in Matabeleland North putting their lives at health risks. It is imperative that the first respondent be stopped from discharging raw sewage into water sources and I urge the court to take judicial notice of the cholera outbreak which ravaged the country from August 2008 to July 2009 in which WHO released the figures of 98 952 cases and 4 288 deaths,” he said.
Already, 13 people including two senior citizens from Entembeni Old People’s Home have died following a diarrhoea outbreak in Luveve and surrounding suburbs in May.
Government attributed the disease outbreak to Bulawayo’s 144-hour water shedding exercise and vandalism of sewerage pipes. — @mashnets