New report shows municipalities still fall short in drinking water quality, sewage treatment

1st August 2017 By: Natasha Odendaal - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The drinking water of three municipalities in South Africa has failed to meet the national standards for quality drinking water, while 59 failed to meet the set quality standards for sewage systems, civil rights organisation AfriForum said on Tuesday.

This followed the testing of the quality of drinking water in 156 towns during May and July and the sewage water treatment systems of 88 towns in May and June, as part of AfriForum’s blue and green drop project.

“The water tests conducted by AfriForum show worrying results, especially in terms of poor sewage management and indicate the continuous decline in South Africa’s infrastructure and a lack of skilled personnel to manage water bodies,” said AfriForum head of environmental affairs Marcus Pawson.

Ellisras, in the Lephalale local municipality; Heilbron, in the Ngwathe local municipality; and Villiers, in the Mafube local municipality, were informed that their drinking water failed national standards and were requested to restore the water standard within 24 hours.

“Follow-up samples indicate that Ngwathe has heeded AfriForum’s request, and that the water is now clean . . . [while] Lephalale responded to AfriForum’s request, but the drinking water is not yet aesthetically up to standard and, therefore, does not meet the specified drinking water standards,” he said.

Villiers and Qalabotjha, which are within the jurisdiction of the Mafube local municipality, have been hit by a collapsed municipality with little to no service, leaving the community to take over the water purification plants themselves and supply clean drinking water to the towns independent of the State.

However, the results are an improvement on prior testing, when 11 water drinking water systems did not meet the standards in 2014, five in 2015 and seven in 2016.

Meanwhile, AfriForum pointed to a drastic decline in the management of sewage water treatment plants in South Africa, with an average of 67% of South African sewage water systems not functioning within the regulatory requirements.

“The 59 wastewater treatment plants that do not meet the standards can pose a threat to human health, food security and the environment,” Pawson said.

Fifteen towns across five municipalities in southern and northern Gauteng did not comply with South Africa’s national water quality sewage standards, while seven towns in four municipalities in the Western Cape failed the test.

The report revealed subpar quality in Mpumalanga, with 12 towns spread across 11 municipalities, and in the North West, with six towns spread evenly across six municipalities.

The Northern Cape was home to two towns across two municipalities with poor quality sewage treatment, and in the Eastern Cape towns in five municipalities fell short.

Four municipalities from Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal each found themselves on the list, along with three towns in four municipalities in the Free State.

South Africa’s national water quality standards allow 1 000 units of E. coli per 100 ml of water in treated sewage water in general wastewater limits.