THE Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has taken the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) to court for failing to upgrade its water treatment plants and sewer systems, which has resulted in raw sewage flowing into the water bodies which provide potable water to residents.
The agency 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 – 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 noncompliance by the local authority is causing pollution to Umguza Dam which is located downstream of the Aisleby 3 Sewer Treatment Plant.
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.
“This is an application seeking a prohibitory and mandatory interdict against water pollution or discharge of raw or untreated effluent by the first respondent (BCC) into the aquatic environment or water sources,” he said.
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.
“Bulawayo has itself not been spared in the past recent months from these outbreaks and residents have made several reports of the sewer discharge due to pipe bursts.”
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.
The government attributed the disease outbreak to Bulawayo’s 144-hour water-shedding exercise and vandalism of sewerage pipes.
BCC is yet to respond to the suit.