The report comes at a time when South Africa simultaneously battles with water supply due to drought conditions at various municipalities, leaving thousands without water.
According to Bryan Ashe of the KZN Water Caucus, the report is based on public documents, parliamentary portfolio committee meetings and the Water Affairs Department’s failure to publish Blue Drop/Green Drop reports, which inform people about water quality.
“The minister was requested to provide clarity on the future of catchment management agencies in a letter dated 8 November, 2017, but we received no response,” said Ashe.
“We are concerned that drinking-water quality has deteriorated in South Africa. The number of systems that were awarded Blue Drop status in 2012 has dropped from 98 to 44 in 2014. These reports are done by the department to ensure that municipalities are able to deliver safe drinking water,” he said.
“The first Blue Drop report in 2009 indicated that the national microbiological compliance for South African tap water was measured at 93.3% against the national standard. There has been significant regression since then as the national Blue Drop score has declined from 87.6% in 2012 to 79.6% in 2014,” said Ashe.
Mariette Liefferink, chief executive of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, emphasised the need for clean water supply which met all quality standards.
“The water belongs to the people of South Africa. Being empowered to act on behalf of the nation, the minister of water and sanitation has the responsibility to fulfil certain obligations relating to the use, allocation and protection of and access to water,” said Liefferink. “Many communities collect water from rivers for domestic use, irrigation, cattle, rituals, recreation and, at times, for drinking purposes because of erratic water supply.”
Making reference to the national water crisis, Liefferink highlighted the risks involved when the public consumed untreated water.
“Discharges of untreated mine water may result in a broad spectrum of metals in toxic concentrations. Metals in drinking water can result in impairment of cognitive functions, skin lesions, cancers and mental retardation since it affects the neural development of the foetus,” she said.
“There can be no sustainable economic activities if we have polluted rivers, dams and wetlands,” Liefferink said.
Water and Sanitation Department spokesperson Mlimandlela Ndamase said the Blue and Green drop statuses, which give the public assurance that the water they drink is up to standard, are collated annually and given to the municipalities for publishing.
“The status reports are sent to different municipalities countrywide and it is their duty to avail the report to citizens,” said Ndamase.
While he recognised the report published by the South African Water Caucus, Ndamase gave the assurance that the quality of water being supplied was still safe for drinking, but recognised the need to allocate more resources to water treatment.
“One of the things we can be certain of is that the quality of water consumed by South Africans is still of the best standard, hence we do acknowledge the state of our water treatments, which is a cause for concern and has the potential to affect the quality of water,” he said.
“The minister remains highly concerned at the deteriorating management of waste water treatment plants across municipalities and as part of the Back to Basics programme of Cogta (Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs), support and interventions are ongoing in 27 district municipalities to specifically attend to the management and efficiency of water systems,” said Ndamase.
“South African water is of a high quality overall. However, there are municipalities where water quality has been compromised due to incapacity and the absence of the requisite skills to manage water systems,” he said.
uMgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder said while uMgeni Water supplied exceptional water quality in six municipalities, the water level at Albert Falls Dam, responsible for supply in eThekwini, was critically low.
“Water levels are at 20% at Albert Falls Dam and the dam will be out of water in two months if no urgent intervention is made,” he said.