The Wakkerstroom Natural Heritage Association has approached the Mpumalanga High Court in Middelburg to seek an interdict that will prevent the Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Local Municipality from implementing a R98m pipeline project.
News24 earlier reported residents feared the project - from Martin's Dam above the Wakkerstroom wetland to Vukuzakhe in Volkrust - would have a negative impact "on the environment, tourism as well job opportunities and ultimately impact on the sustainability of Wakkerstroom itself".
According to court papers filed by the association, the project was unlawful because it lacked an environmental authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management Act, and because it was inconsistent with the water-use licence that controlled the taking of water from Martin's Dam.
"The urgency of this application stems from the fact the construction is ongoing. As such, each day extends the scope of the harm unlawfully inflicted on the environment," the application stated.
Residents up in arms
Residents have been up in arms about the project for a while. The proposed 30km pipeline is a three-year project and it is expected to cost about R98m.
Its purported purpose is to contribute to the supply of water to Vukuzakhe (a suburb outside Volksrust).
However, there were three significant flaws in this plan, the court papers stated.
The first was that the entire premise of the plan was that it would be cheaper to procure water from Martin's Dam than Zaaihoek Dam, but the papers claimed to demonstrate that this was incorrect.
The second was that Martin's Dam cannot provide a sufficient water to supply Wakkerstroom Town and make a meaningful contribution to supplying Volksrust, residents said.
The third was that to supply a meaningful amount of water to Volksrust would exceed the water use permitted by the relevant water-use licence.
"From a technical perspective, the construction of this pipeline is not necessary to supply additional water to Volksrust. A pipeline already connects Volksrust with Zaaihoek Dam [which is located downstream from Martin's Dam]. This pipeline is already being used as an emergency water supply for Volksrust," the association said in its submission.
Its chairperson, Rupert Lawler, told News24 the association does not necessarily want to halt the project completely, it merely wanted the correct procedures to be followed.
Ensure correct paperwork is done
"The only reason we're going to court is because the municipality hasn't responded to our concerns. This is not about getting this whole thing totally scrapped. We are saying, very clearly, that we want to have the project put on hold until an environmental impact study has been concluded, among other studies.
"We want the municipality and the regional authorities to do all the paperwork that we believe should have been done from the beginning."
Lawler said residents have been trying to engage meaningfully with the municipality since September last year, at one point even serving a request in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, but no response was received.
"With this interdict, we would like to ensure that all the necessary steps are taken. If it proves that this is not the best source of water, then the project should be stopped. If it proves that it is the best source of water, then it can go ahead."
Lawler said Martin's Dam was simply too small to supply water to both communities and that another dam, Zaaihoek Dam, was closer to Vukuzakhe and a much more viable water source.
Should due process be followed, said Lawler, many of the concerns the association had raised might be proven to be correct.
Municipality spokesperson Sibonelo Ndlela said in a written response that it was "not true" that there was anything unlawful about the project.
He added the municipality did "not agree" that there would be an environmental impact. "We do not agree, all protected areas, if any, will be avoided."
Asked whether Martin's Dam could supply water to both Wakkerstroom and Vukuzakhe, Ndlela said: "Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Local Municipality is the water authority in this space, and there are poor people who need water within the same water authority area."
The case will be heard in the Mpumalanga High Court on October 9.