Mystery of the yellow Jukskei

Occasionally the Jukskei River north of the N14 highway runs yellow, leaving residents along the banks wondering what could cause this as it disappears within a day. ARMOUR investigated and was alerted by a Google Earth picture from earlier this year which gave a strong clue. The picture shows a yellow stream from what appears to be a sand quarry next to the Jukskei. An alert to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) resulted in two officials joining ARMOUR for a visit Lion Park Quarries which has been operating for 30 years.

Discussions with management at the Quarries did not fully resolve the issue. According to them, the system they use for washing the quarrying equipment recycles the water, no chemicals are used and the waste water is kept in a slurry dam. “None enters the river system,” they said. The unsaid possibility is that the slurry dam overflows into the river on occasion, or management is not aware of what employees working on the plant might be doing. The agreement made with the Quarries management is that if the Jukskei runs yellow again, ARMOUR will immediately phone the manager, take samples of the water for forwarding to DWS and visit the plant to see the situation first-hand. Overall, the result was positive in that management at Lion Park Quarries is open to tackling whatever they might be doing to cause this pollution.

Upgrades to Northern Works leading to better control ARMOUR requested a follow-up visit to the Northern Wastewater Treatment Works, situated next to the Jukskei River, after inspecting it more than a year ago. Accompanied by Sheree Bega, newseditor of the Saturday Star on April 25th, the group was first given an excellent overview of the processes by the operations manager, Ntokozo Mdluli, and then set off on a tour of the Works. Commissioned in 1959, and enlarged over the years, the Works has had to cope with a vast increase in Joburg’s population.

In July/August 2015 untreated sewage was released into the Jukskei over a period, triggering a public outcry and a petition to Joburg Water, several government bodies, the media and NGOs. This resulted in a special budget allocation for urgent maintenance at Northern Works, which had been stopped several years earlier. This response and the need for monitoring led to the formation of ARMOUR and the beginning of regular meetings with top officials of Joburg Water. The latest visit showed visible improvements across the Works with new electro-mechanical equipment installed, primary sedimentation tanks being cleaned and one of the sludge dams already being refurbished with the work on the second dam to begin later this year.

The Works is currently operating at 89% efficiency (taking 360 Ml per day) and is due to be expanded. River Ranger’s journeys lead to the sources of pollution ARMOUR’s River Ranger, Willem Snyman, has probably walked more kilometres along Gauteng’s rivers than anyone else. “I need first-hand experience of what is happening to our rivers – what flows into them and from where, which communities are dependent on the water, what and who contaminates and clogs them up, and I take photos.” Lots of them. Willem was alerted by concerned Huddle Park residents who took pictures of the degradation happening in the park. Huddle Park is a large and highly important wetland area containing one of the source areas of the Jukskei River, just below Linksfield Ridge.

”This is a remnant of the Witwatersrand fountain system with strong perennial streams emanating from this ancient ridge,” explained Willem. “So, near their source they should be running crystal clear, instead they are highly polluted with a bad smell and strange rust-coloured growths.” Willem contacted Joburg Water as well as
the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to demand an investigation. “Mr C M Lobakeng, DWS’s Provincial Head: North-West, responded, stating that a site investigation had been conducted,” reported Willem. “While they had not found any pollution spillage on that day, they had contacted Joburg Water to further investigate possible leaks, and follow-up inspections with Joburg Water would be arranged.” Environment authority open to solutions for Gauteng rivers ARMOUR committee member,

Willem Snyman, requested a meeting with the Department of Environmental Affairs to discuss the dire state of the rivers in north Gauteng. Dumisani Buthelezi, DEA Director of Waste Management, and a colleague attended, as did Mariette Liefferink, CEO of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE). Ms Liefferink commented:

“The commitment from the DEA appears to be genuine and my understanding is that there will be a variety of options considered and implemented. “Besides awareness creation campaigns, financial incentives for local communities to recycle, building of partnerships with businesses to purchase the waste, it is crucial that the dysfunctional Waste Water Treatment Works must be addressed. (The 2014 Green Drop report indicated that 212 waste water treatment plants fall within a “Critical Risk” categorisation. These plants pose serious risks of completely untreated sewage entering rivers, streams and dams. This has dire impacts on water quality and human health.) “Proposals made by Willem Snyman and his colleagues to improve the Treatment Works included using effective microorganisms and passive treatment (wetlands).” DEA agreed to a follow-up meeting early July, says Snyman.

Visit the ARMOUR Facebook page for regular updates and articles on water issues. Membership is growing fast and the River Ranger’s letters and photos sent to Officialdom are shared widely and fast!

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