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Government is the biggest polluter of water in SA

September 23, 2015 deur Esmarie Prinsloo

The civil rights organisation AfriForum says according to the Green Drop Report 2013 (GD 2013), Government is the biggest polluter of water in South Africa.

“Government is discharging approximately 3 642 Ml/day (million litres per day) of sewage effluent that does not comply with safety standards into our rivers and dams. That means that 74% of wastewater treatment facilities are unlawfully polluting our water, which is criminal,” said Julius Kleynhans, Head of Environmental Affairs at AfriForum.

AfriForum compiled a report which focused on the biggest culprits in each province, indicating the snowball effect caused by the pollution.

“Our drinking water is usually subtracted from a river/dam and distributed by a municipality. The Vaal Dam is a good example of the provision of water to Gauteng’s metros. The effluent generated in that municipal area must be cleaned and discharged at the regulated standard to ensure a clean and healthy aquatic system, irrigation water and drinking water for the municipalities using the source downstream,” said Kleynhans.

Wastewater services delivery is performed by one hundred and fifty two (152) water services authorities in South Africa via an infrastructure network comprising of 831 wastewater collector and treatment systems. A total operational flow of 4910 Ml/day is received at the 831 treatment facilities, which have a collective hydraulic design capacity of approximately 5645 Ml/day. This means that 87% of the existing design capacity is accounted for by the current operational flows, leaving a theoretical surplus of 13% as ‘available’ capacity for future demand.

“These facts can be questioned because many individual plants have no surplus and run at full capacity. The number of manholes discharging raw sewage into storm water drains, streams, rivers and dams also raises concerns about the transparency and accuracy of the Green Drop Report results due to the fact that some wastewater treatment works may not receive the full amount of sewage in their service areas,” Kleynhans said.

“248 systems have been issued Purple Drops in 2013 for receiving <30% and thereby earning the undesirable status of “systems in crisis”. These 248 “purple drops” or systems in crisis, as phrased in the Executive Summary of the GD 2013, were however (unfortunately) not mentioned by name,” Kleynhans added.

The Regulator is satisfied with the increase in the national score from 71% in 2011 to 73,8% in 2013.

“This sounds very impressive until the note is read that the National Green Drop score applies weight per system which means that a massive works like the Johannesburg Northern Works with a capacity of 450 Ml/day and performing very well can “pull up” many smaller works with capacities of 5 to 10 Ml/day,” said Kleynhans.

Currently only 25% (230 out of 891) of wastewater treatment plants submit wastewater quality results to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS).

“We believe that this shocking result is due to the fact that municipalities are not motivated because Green Drop Results are not published and those who fail to adhere to regulations are not held accountable. It is clear that the root cause of the problem is the failure of the Regulator to act as custodian and hold polluters accountable. Politics are ruining our water quality, posing severe risks to the economy, health, environment, food security and every person in this country,” added Kleynhans.

Recent remarks indicated that the Minister is not fazed by the pollution occurring throughout the country, seemingly instructing enforcement officials to step down and not take action against municipalities before the 2016 municipal elections.

It is also clear in the introduction of the Blue Drop 2013 Executive Summary that DWS has no intention to take action against criminal municipal officials.

“It is not the purpose of this assessment to criminalise poor or high risk drinking water services and water quality, but rather to act as a precautionary tool, warning the Water Services Institutions in the country about the level of risk at which water services and water quality is delivered to the citizens of South Africa.”

Solutions to the problem:

– The Regulator of water, DWS, must step up and work responsibly as the custodian of water and protect this critical and scarce resource with zero tolerance.

– The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) as the water and sanitation regulator should release detailed Green Drop Reports. Sound regulatory practices require openness, transparency and involvement of the public. This will most probably become a requirement from global monitoring programmes.

– People working on waterworks must have proper qualifications to work with this critical resource, as set out in regulations.

– Compliance must be enforced on those who negligently failed to comply with legal and permit requirements. The crime of water pollution with the risk it poses to social, economic and environmental aspects must be treated with zero tolerance and municipal officials not complying with these critical legal requirements must be held personally accountable, civilly and criminally.

SMS the name of your town to 45354 to join AfriForum in its initiative to ensure the sustainable use and protection of our water resources. (R1/SMS)

• Click here for the Waste Water Report: AfriForum_Waste_Water_Report_2015