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Invasive weeds and water hyacinths pose growing threat to vital water sources nationwide

Azra Hoosen |
18 April 2024 | 15:00 CAT
3 min read

A workshop held in Vanderbijlpark recently addressed concerns about pollution in the Vaal River. It proposed establishing a National Register of Polluters to hold individuals and companies accountable. Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu emphasised the necessity of establishing a National Register of Polluters to address environmental and water source pollution nationwide. He stressed the importance of holding individuals in positions of authority, including mayors and CEOs, accountable for neglect and contributing to river pollution.

Key resolutions included forming sectoral forums and engaging with mayors of affected cities. Mchunu stressed the need for prevention, early detection, restoration, collaboration, research, and innovation to combat invasive species and protect water sources.

Certain sections of the river are covered with water lettuce and hyacinth, which are known to spread at alarming speeds. This has been a longstanding problem at the Hartbeestpoort Dam and the Vaal, an important source of water for Gauteng, which is under threat.

Dr Ferrial Adam, Water and climate justice activist and executive manager of WaterCAN at OUTA, sheds light on the issue in an interview with Radio Islam.

“If you look at the Vaal, where we have water lettuce, we also have areas in Kruger Park and Mpumalanga where we have water lettuce and hyacinths because it is linked to sewage and other pollution that goes out of control,” she said.

She stated that due to the elevated levels of sewage contamination and nutrient content in the water, the water hyacinth proliferates rapidly, fueled by the abundant nutrients, becoming a significant problem. Additionally, the lack of supervision and maintenance of dams exacerbates the issue, making it challenging and costly to address effectively.

According to Adam, cleaning out the hyacinth from the dam requires substantial financial resources and concerted efforts, as it is a complex and arduous task.

Deputy Minister David Mahlobo urged authorities to fulfil their responsibilities without delay.

“We are trying to unpack what the national registry means, but I think the one thing they’re saying is that if a group or a company is on a national group national polluters registry, for example, if they apply for access, for example, to a water use license, that would be monitored strongly, or they would be denied a license, and some of these companies can’t operate without it. But how are they going to hold these people accountable?” said Adam.

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has identified 47 wastewater treatment works (WWTWs) as sources of contamination for the Vaal River. Water pollution arises from various origins, such as industrial contaminants, inadequate waste disposal methods, and the intentional or unintentional discharge of effluents from Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTWs) into rivers, among others.

“It is important to have some kind of a list; there is not enough enforcement being done right now. We know for sure that its government with wastewater treatment works, but what about all the people who are dumping in wetlands and rivers, those who have smaller companies that are polluting with paint and there is a range of strange things being thrown into the rivers, they need to be held accountable. This will show we are being harsher on people polluting water as we do not have water to play with,” said Adam.

Adam emphasised that pollution has a devastating impact on the ecosystem, destroying the environment, marine life, and plants. Polluted water renders these resources unusable and irreparable, deteriorating the surrounding environment. She stressed that the damage inflicted cannot be reversed or rehabilitated, highlighting the urgency of addressing the pollution issue.

Furthermore, Minister Mchunu intends to convene a meeting with the Mayors of Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Mogale City to assess the condition of Centurion Lake and its tributaries, which impact the lake’s state. He emphasised that all government levels must lead in addressing water source pollution and environmental degradation.

LISTEN to the full interview with Ml Sulaimaan Ravat and Dr Ferrial Adam, Water and climate justice activist, here.



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