The Department of Water and Sanitation has issued a critical alert regarding the detection of harmful algae blooms along the Vaal River system. The announcement, made in a media statement on November 28, highlighted the presence of blue-green algae in the river, particularly noticeable in the Barkly West region, with the potential to spread downstream.
CONCERNS regarding the safety of tap water supplied by local municipalities have surged, particularly after reports of severe illnesses following the recent water shutdowns in Kimberley.
The DFA was also informed of potential raw sewage flowing into the Vaal River in the vicinity of Riverton. The DFA approached the Sol Plaatje Municipality with pertinent questions, only to receive a response that leaves crucial queries unanswered.
The questions posed to the municipality were aimed at seeking clarity and accountability regarding the allegation of sewage discharge into the Vaal River.
The questions were:
Awareness: Is the Sol Plaatje Municipality aware of the situation regarding raw sewage discharge into the Vaal River near Riverton?
Accountability: Why has this sewage discharge been allowed to persist for an extended period without effective intervention or remediation?
Action plan: What specific measures and actions do the Sol Plaatje Municipality plan to undertake to stop the ongoing sewage discharge into the Vaal River system?
Timeline: When can the community and concerned stakeholders expect the municipality to initiate and complete the actions necessary to address this issue?
Health concerns: Does the municipality fully comprehend the potential health hazards and risks this situation poses to the downstream communities that rely on the Vaal River for their water supply and recreation?
In response to the questions the Sol Plaatje Municipality denied any knowledge of such an occurrence. Instead, they claimed that the water discharged into the Vaal River is treated effluent, complying with Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) standards.
The municipality further admitted that in case of any malfunction at the wastewater treatment plant, the effluent is diverted to the Langleg Pan.
The provided responses raise significant concerns.
Lack of awareness: Despite reports from community members in the area who have observed the water flowing into the river and have noted a drastic increase in the smell where the water is flowing into the river, the municipality is saying that the standard of water flowing into the river is fine.
Ongoing discharge: Acknowledging the diversion of effluent to an alternative location during a plant malfunction implies an ongoing issue that demands immediate rectification rather than a long-term resolution.
Inadequate health concern acknowledgment: The response fails to adequately address the potential health hazards and risks posed to downstream communities reliant on the Vaal River for water supply and recreational purposes. The absence of a definitive plan or timeline to prevent or rectify the discharge exacerbates the situation. The community’s health and the environmental impact remain at risk due to the apparent lack of urgency and transparency from the municipality.
Addressing this matter transparently and promptly is paramount for both environmental conservation and the well-being of impacted communities.
On Tuesday an urgent warning was issued for water pollution in the Vaal River system. The Department of Water and Sanitation has issued a critical alert regarding the detection of harmful algae blooms along the Vaal River system. The announcement, made in a media statement on November 28, highlighted the presence of blue-green algae in the river, particularly noticeable in the Barkly West region, with the potential to spread downstream.
Attributed to elevated nutrient levels and soaring temperatures, the proliferation of blue-green algae poses a significant threat to both human health and the well-being of animals. Officials have underscored the peril associated with consuming water contaminated by this algal bloom, emphasising its potentially lethal consequences.
As a precautionary measure, the Department of Water and Sanitation is urgently advising all water users, including municipalities, communities, and farmers situated along the Vaal River system, to refrain from directly consuming untreated water sourced from the river. The specific areas mentioned in the statement include Barkley West, Winsorton and Warrenton, all falling within the Dikgatlong Local Municipality.
Residents downstream are also urged to heed this warning. The department has recommended the implementation of stringent measures to enhance the monitoring and treatment protocols for ensuring the quality of drinking water.
This advisory came amid rising apprehension about the environmental impact and public health hazards posed by water pollution incidents in several regions.
The urgency of the situation necessitates immediate action from relevant authorities and heightened awareness among residents to avoid direct contact with, or consumption of, water from the Vaal River system until further notice. The department has assured ongoing vigilance and efforts to mitigate the issue.
Further updates and guidelines for the affected regions are anticipated to be released promptly as the situation develops. The ramifications of water contamination are grave, and it is imperative for all stakeholders to collaborate and take proactive steps to ensure the safety and well-being of the community.
For more information and guidance, concerned individuals are advised to contact the Department of Water and Sanitation in the Northern Cape or their local municipality.
The department released its interim Green Drop Report in June this year, uncovering distressing statistics regarding the state of municipal small wastewater treatment works (SWWTW) nationwide. Out of a total of 850 facilities examined, the report focused on a sample of 334, presenting a concerning assessment of its conditions.
Key findings from the report are as follows:
All 334 municipal SWWTW were declared in critical condition in 2022. The entirety of these municipal facilities, spanning across all nine provinces, were classified as being in a critical state last year. Their Green Drop scores fell below a worrying 31%.
The report also shed light on provinces grappling with the largest numbers of SWWTW in dire situations. Limpopo recorded the highest percentage of facilities in critical condition, with 78%. The Northern Cape follows closely behind Limpopo, with 76% of its facilities listed in a critical state.
The report has intensified concerns regarding the country’s water treatment infrastructure and its capacity to address the persistent water crisis.
Meanwhile, AfriForum’s Blue and Green Drop Project report, which was released in November 2023, exposes the deepening water quality crisis across South Africa The findings from AfriForum Community Sustainability’s extensive report paint a distressing picture of the country’s failing water infrastructure, threatening the health and well-being of its citizens.
The water crisis is amplified by multiple factors. The country’s dire water situation is a consequence of various compounding factors. Pollution, exacerbated by erratic weather conditions, together with an ailing drinking water and sewage infrastructure, have resulted in severe water shortages across numerous towns.
Raw sewage discharge from malfunctioning SWWTW and broken pumping stations have led to rivers being contaminated, posing severe health risks to the populace.
The cholera outbreak in May 2023, resulting in 47 deaths in the Free State and Gauteng, starkly illustrates the urgency of the situation. Despite the pressing need for action, government’s response has been sluggish and marred by corruption.
Mismanagement of water resources and a lack of prompt intervention have left communities vulnerable and in dire need of consistent access to clean water.
Shockingly, nearly half of the drinking water available to municipalities is lost due to leaks, exacerbating the crisis. However, the good news is that AfriForum’s annual nationwide testing using specialised kits has shown that, in 2023, 96% of municipal drinking water samples were deemed safe for consumption.
On the downside, the green drop tests show that only 19% of sewage treatment works met the prescribed discharge standards into water resources.
The majority of works failed to function effectively, releasing polluted effluents containing bacteria and chemicals into rivers, posing serious health hazards.