/ 21 March 2024

Residents fume over sewage-filled Bryanfern Spruit

Volkak Spruit Outa 1024x555
Water activists last week "renamed" rivers and other water bodies throughout the country to highlight the dire state of water and sanitation in their areas. File photo

Residents in Bryanfern, Johannesburg, are at their wits’ end over the sewage flowing into the Bryanfern Spruit and the threat it poses to them and to people living  further downstream.

The Bryanfern Residents Association says it will have no option but to seek legal advice unless the matter is addressed.

The section of river between the N1 highway, Oxford Road in Ferndale and Main Road in Bryanston has experienced regular spills in the past five years, but the situation has worsened since January 2023. The smell of raw sewage regularly pollutes the valley.

In the broader area, there are more than 80 sewage leaks between the Klein Jukskei, a tributary of the Jukskei River that ultimately runs into the Hartebeespoort Dam and Bronkhorst Spruit.

Residents and local Democratic Alliance councillor Emi Koekemoer have repeatedly brought sewage leaks to the attention of the City of Johannesburg, but the crisis continues unabated.

The residents’ association is concerned that a repeat of last year’s Hammanskraal cholera outbreak, which claimed 23 lives, could occur in the area.

In 2023, the results of three separate water audits – the Blue Drop, No Drop and Green Drop reports – were published by Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu. Among its findings was that at certain points in 2022 it was not microbiologically safe to drink the water in 46% of South Africa’s municipal systems.

A department press release noted that 64% of wastewater treatment works were “at high or critical risk of discharging partially treated or untreated water into rivers and the environment”, adding that this posed risks to human health.

“The situation in the Bryanfern Spruit is an accident waiting to happen,” said Bryanfern resident Paul Hanly.

He said residents had been patrolling the riverbanks to find the breaks in the sewerage system.

A leak found upstream had been repaired but then occurred again. That matter was first escalated on 8 November 2022 but there have been 28 escalations since, as well as 19 additional escalations to the Johannesburg Water. No action was taken.

Koekemoer pointed out that public entities such as Joburg Water had a service level agreement with the city that stated sewage leaks had to be repaired within 48 hours and burst pipes repaired within three days.

“Councillors have WhatsApp escalation groups that include depot managers, regional managers and usually the managing director of the company. It’s the councillors’ way of saying there’s an issue that the City is not paying attention to. But nothing happens.”

She had also raised the Bryanfern spruit sewage problem at three councillor forum meetings, on 29 June, 29 August and 24 October last year. She was told that the situation would be investigated and she would receive feedback.

“Since then, nothing has happened,” Koekemoer said.

Even section 79 committee meetings, a councillor’s main oversight mechanism in terms of receiving reports, had yielded no results.

Hanly said the catastrophic state of the municipality was had a direct effect on the health of residents and the environment.

“Year after year they are spending more and more and more on their operational budget, in other words, staff salaries and patching up problems, rather than on capital expenditure. Where they are supposed to be going and replacing these pipes, they’re doing patchwork fixes instead, if they actually do anything at all.”

There was only one backhoe digger servicing leaks and burst pipes at Joburg Water’s Randburg depot. This covered a large area that included Ferndale, Randburg, Bryanston and all the way to Riverlea.

“There’s no money available to buy more or invest in more skills. The city is running into bankruptcy at this point,” he said.

“But they are violating so many health and safety conventions. We believe they are in contravention of 16 environmental laws.”