Nov 19, 2010
'Blue Drop' water quality scheme gains momentum, but critics say more is neededBack
Engineering|Expertise|Johannesburg|Mangaung|Montreal|Tshwane|Africa|Consulting|Resources|Safety|System|Touchstone Resources|Umfula Wempilo Consulting|Water|Africa|Canada|South Africa|United Kingdom|World Resources Institute|Chemical And Microbiological Standards|Maintenance|Microbiological And Chemical Determinants|Service|Services|Water Infrastructure|Eastern Cape|Environmental|Annabelle May|Anthony Turton|Chris Herold|Edna Molewa|Infrastructure|Leonardo Manus|Neil Macleod|Rand Water|Water|Ricoh R10 Digital Camera|Eastern Cape
© Reuse this
Any amount less than 1 000 m3 a person means that water stresses are likely to begin to hamper economic development, environmental sustainability and human health.
To avoid this potentially debilitating reality, South Africa reportedly needs to invest R2,6-billion in water infrastructure every year until 2030.
But quantity is but one side of the equation. To avoid a full-blown crisis, the authorities also need to keep an eye on the quality of supply.
As part of its quality mitigation efforts, the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWA) has instituted the ‘Blue Drop’ certification programme, an incentive-based regulatory approach designed to help improve the level of quality and delivery within the water sector.
Water services authorities are awarded Blue Drop status if they are compliant with drinking water legislative requirements, as well as other leading practices in the management of potable water.
The scheme is a first for South Africa and is also regarded internationally as unique in the drinking water regulatory domain.
The idea is to build, and in some case to restore, public confidence in tap-water quality.
It is also designed to ensure that authorities and providers alike improve their performance, while offering certified towns and municipalities the confidence to approach investors and tourists with an independent water quality guarantee.
Hitherto, economic regulation has also received much of the emphasis, with technical regulation having only gained real momentum in the last decade.
“This makes our incentive-based regulation approach to drinking water quality a real pioneering element in this field,” Manus explains.
The department is a member of the World Health Organisation’s Regulators Network (RegNet), and recently attended the third RegNet meeting, in Montreal, Canada, where the Blue Drop Certification Programme was well received – to the extent that the next RegNet meeting is to be held in South Africa to enable further exposure to the approach being adopted here.
Blue Drop certification means that the city or town concerned has scored 95% or higher for its compliance with stringent criteria set, including chemical and microbiological standards.
In audits conducted between October last year and February this year,
For the past six months, the overall South African drinking water quality was measured at 96% on average for both microbiological and chemical determinants.
This figure shows a significant improvement in the ‘2009 Blue Drop’ report, which was 93,3%.
Umfula Wempilo Consulting founder and South African Institution of Civil Engineering council member Dr Chris Herold concurs that the programme is a “valuable yardstick against which to measure performance”. He says that it also helps to identify problem municipalities and highlights areas for urgent intervention.
But Herold also advocates “naming and shaming” underperforming municipalities, so as to increase pressure on them to perform.
TouchStone Resources’ Dr Anthony Turton is also concerned that, given government’s embattled position, a “strong spin element” currently surrounds the programme, as well as other departmental initiatives.
He believes that there is a need for a public acknowledgement that water quality is deteriorating nationally. “Instead, the spin doctors are saying that there is no problem, which prevents solution thinking or solution implementation.”
In the absence of accepting the problem, response plans will be “piecemeal” – a kind of “patch and pray aimed at placating con- sumers, combined with an attempt to discredit commentators who persist in their view that there is a problem”.
For him, much of the answer rests with political will rather than technology.
It remains to be seen whether newly appointed Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, who replaces Buyelwa Sonjica, following President Jacob Zuma’s recent Cabinet reshuffle, will rise to the occasion.
The City of Tshwane believes that the scheme has already supported improved water service delivery, owing to the fact that providers are now “accountable to an external body”.
This accountability has encouraged and prioritised all facets of drinking water quality, such as monitoring and compliance, failure response, asset management, trained staff and risk identification and control.
The City of eThekwini describes it as an “excellent tool” to improve performance, particularly when coupled with the associated Green Drop Certification Programme for sewage treatment works.
“It is too early to call it a success, if success is measured by every municipality having water that is well managed and safe to drink. Its success to date lies in the fact that more municipalities have Blue Drop certification in 2010 than was the case for 2009 ,” says Water and Sanitation head Neil Macleod.
Manus says the department is currently working to improve and increase the resources required to ensure the sustainable effective execution of its drinking water quality regulation function.
This includes the expansion of the structure to increase the resources available and the continued training with the aim of achieving ISO accreditation for its regulation approach (which would be another global pioneering initiative).
“While critics ensure that the department maintains focus and amends the programme to be even more effective and relevant, the negative side is that some public statements are uninformed and spread incorrect impressions, which results in a constant attack on the credibility of the programme,” reiterates Manus.
Even though the majority of municipal officials have shown a positive response to the programme, not all involved or affiliated to the municipal processes are fully conversant with the aims of the programme, because some consultants who have yet to comprehend principles such as water safety planning are providing advice on this matter.
“This is being addressed through ensuring continued awareness of the programme.”
But Turton notes that not all municipalities are equal, as some have capacity and they generally want to improve things, while many others lack capacity and have no chance of making a difference.
“I was recently in the Eastern Cape, where I was informed that the local authority had zero revenue from the people they provided services to. They were 100% dependent on grants from central government. This is clearly not sustainable, so it is from small local authorities like these that many of the problems arise.”
He asserts that one needed a credible central authority that is both willing and capable of enforcing the law, as, if it is not enforced, all else amounts to nothing.
The chronic underpricing of water is also a key constraint. “Frankly, our main constraint is the price of water, which is artificially low for political reasons. Many technological solutions become viable when water is priced at R10/kℓ.”
“If people were appointed to jobs based purely on technical capability, and not on party loyalty, then the human capacity problem would vanish,” says Turton.
At municipal level, the problems is even more acute, owing to the fact that much engineering expertise has been lost. Many municipalities do not have a single engineer or engineering technician. Some even lack the capacity to draw up a contract with outside providers.
In fact, Herold cites the acute skills shortage as the biggest bottleneck to assuring both adequate quantity and quality of water. Even the megacities and larger district municipalities are losing skills and institu-tional memory “at an alarming rate”.
The skills challenge is a generic one, but also afflicts the Blue Drop scheme.
In response, the department has trained 86 aspirant assessors, of which 53 are qualified to be used as Blue Drop 2011 inspectors. Successful candidates have been divided into panels and have been allocated a number of municipalities to be assessed.
Great emphasis was placed on the need for a water safety plan, since this would be a more effective way of managing drinking water quality.
The UK-based Drinking Water Inspectorate availed the services of Dr Annabelle May, who attended all the sessions and gave a special lecture on water safety plans and how these are being implemented in the UK.
“This is an indication of the realisation and agreement of what is required by this new regulatory approach, which goes beyond reactive monitoring and focuses more on proactive risk management,” avers Manus.
The City of Tshwane says that one of the stumbling blocks in the Blue Drop environment is the lack of preventive maintenance as well as proper monitoring of the operations and distribution network.
The city calls for networking within the water community to serve as an aid, a knowledge base and mentoring of water treatment works personnel and for other personnel that require skills.
“A holistic approach to water quality from catchment to consumer will significantly improve our water quality, in general – and this is where the Blue Drop system will help munici-palities to prioritise their funding and skills”.
Herold points out that many of the larger metropolitan areas do not purify their potable water. Large water boards such as Rand Water deliver this service.
“This may skew the results since the more onerous task of purifying the water also rests with many of the smaller municipalities, which have the least capacity to do so.”
Fair comparisons of performance are further confounded by the quality of the raw water that has to be treated. Rand Water has it easy since virtually its entire supply comes from the Vaal dam.
North West Water and Sedibeng have a much more difficult task since they have to make do with the polluted water returned by Rand Water customers. Similarly, Brits faces even worse obstacles owing to the severe eutrophication of the Hartbeespoort dam.
It is, thus, common cause that Blue Drop is a positive development, but possibly not adequate on its own.
What is not in doubt, though, is that South Africa’s economic growth prospects will be imperilled unless greater urgency is shown and more openness and transparency are introduced on the quality-management front.
Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Other Water News
Article contains comments
Recent Research Reports
Road and Rail 2014: A review of South Africa's road and rail infrastructure (PDF report)
Creamer Media’s Road and Rail 2014 report examines South Africa’s road and rail transport system, with particular focus on the size and state of the country’s road and rail network, the funding and maintenance of these respective networks, and the push to move...
Real Economy Year Book 2014 (PDF Report)
This edition drills down into the performance and outlook for a variety of sectors, including automotive, construction, electricity, transport, steel, water, coal, gold, iron-ore and platinum.
Real Economy Insight: Automotive 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the automotive industry over the past 12 months, including an overview of South Africa’s automotive market, trade figures, production and the policies influencing the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Construction 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the construction industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the sector and includes details of employment in the sector, infrastructure and municipal spending, as well as insight into companies’...
Real Economy Insight: Electricity 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the electricity industry over the past 12 months, including details of State-owned power utility Eskom’s generation activities, funding and tariffs, independent power producers and prospects for the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Road and Rail 2014 (PDF Report)
This six-page brief covers key developments in the road and rail industries over the past 12 months, including details of South Africa’s road and rail network and prospects for both sectors.
This Week's Magazine
South African State-owned defence industrial group Denel has announced its fourth consecutive year of profits. The group's results for the financial year 2013/2014 were recently announced at its head office in Centurion, south of Pretoria. Revenues grew by 17%, net...
There is little opportunity for JSE-listed infrastructure company Group Five to grow shareholder value in the domestic market, says CEO Mike Upton. He says value can still be found in the private sector, in the renewable and industrial power sector, as well as in...
The National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) has announced the event dates of the 2015 Johannesburg International Motor Show (JIMS). The event will take place from October 14 to October 25, 2015, at the Johannesburg Expo Centre, Nasrec.
UK engineering support services provider Babcock is set to deliver the largest order of global truck manufacturer DAF’s truck tractors in Southern Africa to bulk carrier road-based logistics company Ngululu Bulk Carriers (NBC), with 133 trucks to be delivered in...
Digital radio communications in the African local government space can open up the world, but have many challenges to overcome, notes integration and migration of legacy radio communications infrastructure with digital mobile radio company Emcom Wireless head of...