Home Opinion and Features Drinking water report makes for grim reading

Drinking water report makes for grim reading

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The latest water quality report compiled by the Department of Water and Sanitation has revealed that there has been a decline in drinking water quality and a deterioration in the performance of municipal wastewater treatment systems.

Decline in water quality and deteriorating performance of municipal wastewater treatment systems.

THE LATEST water quality report compiled by the Department of Water and Sanitation has revealed that there has been a decline in drinking water quality and a deterioration in the performance of municipal wastewater treatment systems since the last report in 2014.

The Blue Drop and No Drop Water Report and Green Drop Progress Assessment Report findings were released on Tuesday amid growing complaints about severe water cuts in several municipalities across the country.

The department has requested that those in charge of water or wastewater systems in a critical state submit detailed corrective action plans.

The department said that Blue, Green and No Drop Certification programmes are aimed at improving municipal drinking water quality and wastewater management.

The Blue Drop report is a comprehensive assessment of the state of all 958 water supply systems (WSS) in each of the 144 water services authorities (WSAs) in the country. For each WSS, assessments are carried out, including on infrastructure, maintenance of the infrastructure, if proper treatment and monitoring are in place and whether there are qualified staff.

Twenty-six water supply systems scored more than 95% and qualified for the prestigious Blue Drop Certification. In 2014, 44 WSS were awarded Blue Drop status, indicating an overall decline between 2014 and 2023.

The department added that of the 958 WSS, 277 (29%) located in 62 WSAs were identified to be in a critical state of performance.

“In 2014, 174 WSS in 33 WSAs were found to be in a critical state of performance. This indicates that there has been an overall increase in the number of systems in a critical state of performance between 2014 and 2023,” said the report.

The department said based on water quality tests carried out by municipalities themselves during the 2021/2022 municipal financial year, “54% of water supply systems achieved excellent or good microbiological water quality compliance, and 46% achieved poor or bad microbiological water quality compliance.

The department added that the No Drop Programme found that national non-revenue water increased from 37% in 2014 to 47% in 2023.

“This is caused by physical losses such as water leaking out of pipes above or underground, poorly functioning or non-existent water meters, illegal connections and poor billing and revenue collection.”

The department said the Green Drop Progress Assessment report, which focuses on Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTWs), found that 64% of WWTWs are at high or critical risk of discharging partially treated or untreated water into rivers and the environment.

“The number of WWTWs in the high- and critical-risk categories have both increased since 2013. This has negative environmental implications and poses risks to human health.”

The department added that they are working with the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency, the Department of Human Settlements and National Treasury, to provide support to the worst performing municipalities, including allocating infrastructure grants worth more than R20 billion per annum.

“Despite all the support being provided to municipalities, the drop reports indicate that water services continue to decline and that fundamental reform is required to arrest and turn around the decline in municipal water and sanitation services.”

Mkhuleko Hlengwa, IFP national spokesperson said all the reports (Blue, Green, and No-Drop) paint a grim picture of the real state of water infrastructure in the country.

“This is due to negligence that has left infrastructure to crumble, which in turn severely affects all South Africans. The country has every reason to be worried. It is increasingly becoming more unsafe for ordinary South Africans to trust water quality when opening taps.”

Hlengwa added that the deterioration of municipal wastewater treatment systems’ means that millions of rand will need to be invested to fix ailing infrastructure.

Nicholas Myburgh, DA national spokesperson on Water and Sanitation, said the results of the reports came as no surprise.

“The only good news is that Blue, Green and No Drop have been reinstated. The report proves that our water infrastructure is in a critical state.

“We have been raising this issue as we have conducted oversight visits and have seen how sewage is seeping onto our roads and into the ocean. The water from our taps is of poor quality.”

Myburgh said the water crisis could be worse than the energy crisis.

“There were warnings about the energy crisis and nothing was done and now we can see the situation we are in and with water, it is heading in the same direction. More funds will not solve the situation, it’s only a change of management that can resolve this crisis.”

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