The Vaal River is a source of life in water-scarce South Africa. Stretching 1,120 km, it is the third longest river in South Africa and a major water resource. It is used to irrigate crops along most of its length. It teems with aquatic and bird life and provides a food source to many thousands of impoverished households which rely on the fish in the river for nutrition. It is a contributor to job creation especially in agriculture, industry and tourism. It feeds power stations, mines, industry and our homes with precious water.
The Vaal Dam upstream of Vereeniging provides Gauteng with water. The Vaal River provides water to five provinces and the Bloemhof Dam downstream of Parys.
Unfortunately, it has become a disposal pit for sewage and other toxic mining and industrial effluent and waste as well as acid mine drainage water which is not meeting specification standards and is increasing the salt content of the water. Sewage pollution and acid mine drainage number amongst the greatest threats to the Vaal River.
The 2018 sewage pollution crisis, caused by the collapse of the Emfuleni Local Council’s waste water treatment system, has impacted on the river and its tributaries from Vereeniging to Parys (and there are some reports about this pollution reaching as far as Bloemhof Dam).
Similarly, sewage pollution in the Vaal Dam is heading towards a crisis as a result of the dysfunctional waste water systems of local councils upstream and increasing mining activity.
Pollution is killing this precious asset, causing health risks and threats to agriculture, food security and the environment.
The Emfuleni Local Council is not the only polluter – there are 26 waste water treatment systems whose effluent is pumped into the Vaal River. Most of these plans do not comply with effluent quality standards required by the Department of Water and Sanitation in terms of water licences. The end result is that raw sewage or partially treated effluent is deposited into the Vaal River – from Mpumulanga to the Northern Cape.