‘Dead water’ spews out of taps

Mix-up with pipe connection blamed for health scare at Aloes

Clayton Plaatjies collects drinking water at the Aloes settlement
Clayton Plaatjies collects drinking water at the Aloes settlement
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

Residents of Aloes near the Swartkops River watched in horror as green, stinking sludge poured out of their taps yesterday morning – water the municipality referred to as “dead water”.

The community and a member of the Zwartkops Conservancy insisted that contractors had told them it was sewage but the municipality refuted the allegation.

The green water from the taps was a result of a mistake by a contractor working on a water leak.

The contractor had accidentally connected a pipe for drinking water to a pipe filled with the “dead” water.

Eileen Leander, 39, a community leader for the Aloes settlement, said municipal officials confirmed that taps were spewing sewage.

She said community members were warned not to drink the water.

Zwartkops Conservancy environmental officer Jenny Rump said municipal officials had also told her the water from the taps was sewage – based on the way it looked and smelled.

Mayoral spokesman Sibongile Dimbaza, however, said officials had been informed it was “dead” water from an old, unused pipe that was accidentally connected to the fresh water line.

Dimbaza said: “This is the reason for the discoloured water and not sewage [as] has [been] claimed.

“The water has been reinstated to the original supply and everything is normal now.”

He said the water would be thoroughly tested before it was declared safe for human consumption.

Leander, 39, said children and pregnant women had been exposed to the contaminated water.

She said two community members had reported suffering from diarrhoea.

“The guy from the municipality came and asked for a glass of water. He looked at it and smelled it.

“He said it was sewage. Our water is green,” she said.
She said there was one tap with useable water for the community of about 50 people – as it was connected to a different pipeline.

“We have been told the municipality will have to flood the pipe with chlorine and then would come and test the water before we can use the taps again.”

Leander said municipal officials came out to clean their taps and test their drinking water.

Rump said she believed they were finally seeing the disaster, predicted as far back as 2010, that resulted from failed infrastructure, under pressure from a growing population.

Only the top of lampposts were sticking out of sewage at the Brickfields Pre-Treatment Plant where sewage was dammed up to allow the crumbling main pipeline to be fixed.

To relieve the pressure on Brickfields, sewage was also released in the Motherwell stormwater canal leading to sewage flooding into the Swartkops River.

Rump described the situation as a disaster. She said the conservancy had been warning the municipality since 2010 that it was clear the main sewage line from Motherwell was too small.

She said the main sewage pipe had broken in several places since April 14.

A huge sewage flood came past the Aloes settlement yesterday afternoon with an awful stench in the air.

Rump said despite the extent of the crisis she was impressed with how seriously metro officials and their contractor, Alliance Plumbing, took the potential large-scale pollution of the river.