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Murky truth about the Dusi - 4 February 2008

Pietermaritzburg's municipal authorities and the department of water affairs and forestry (DWAF) are not coming clean on the city's sewer system failures that have resulted in vast amounts of raw sewage spilling into the Msunduzi River.

This is revealed in documents leaked to the Sunday Tribune, including results of water quality monitoring by Umgeni Water and associated correspondence in the wake of the Hansa Powerade Dusi Canoe Marathon.

Serious health risks from sewage spills are also being downplayed, with possible dire consequences for many people.

Disastrous sewage spills are occurring in rivers countrywide but if DWAF's response to the Msunduzi's pollution is anything to go by, little is being done to bring guilty parties to book.

While Pietermaritzburg's Municipal Manager, Rob Haswell, this week acknowledged there were problems to be addressed, a top water affairs official, KwaZulu-Natal's deputy director (water quality) Lin Gravelet-Blondin, described the pollution levels at the start of the Dusi canoe marathon as "not too bad".

"It was higher than usual - but I've seen worse," said Gravelet-Blondin.

Water quality monitoring by Umgeni Water on the first day of the marathon revealed serious health threatening levels of e.Coli in the Msunduzi River - in one case more than 1 800 times the internationally accepted safe limit for swimming (130 e.Coli counts per 100ml of river water).

This reading of 241 900 e.Coli/100ml was from a sample taken from the Msunduzi River at Doornhoek, the end of the Campbell portage where canoeists put their boats back into the river, which is about 15km downstream from the Darvill sewer works.

This high reading was attributed to a suspected contaminated plug of water - probably an overflow of raw sewage from Darvill.

. . . read the remainder of this article on IOL