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Sewage works pose a huge challenge

Where will the funds come from to rectify the problem

The shocking s state of the country’s waste water treatment plants is in need of an urgent high level intervention. The absence thereof is gradually feeding the disaster which is slowly but surely creeping up on us.

The publication of the latest Green Drop Report by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Ms Edna Molewa, highlighted the state of the nation’s sewage works once again.

While the number of plants getting an all clear status has risen, and some provinces – including Gauteng and the Western Cape – are in reasonable shape, the situation in the Eastern Cape, Freestate  and Limpopo is extremely alarming.

A closer look at the Eastern Cape shows that it has 123 wastewater treatment plants of which 70 are in a critical state and further 20 are described as very poor. Millions of litres of untreated sewage are being discharged into rivers and streams by municipalities.

The main problems seem to be:

  • A huge lack of human capacity. Local authorities have lost approximately 85% of their engineers and technicians.
  • A lot of wastewater treatment plants have infrastructure, but have fallen into disrepair because of a lack of maintenance and funds.
  • The financial and managerial situation is a further serious issue.
  • Citizens all over the world are not keen to pay for sewage removal.

On the positive side, however, a tremendous amount of good work is being done and implemented by DWAF. The department has crafted an innovative plan aimed at rewarding municipalities that effectively manage their water treatment plants.

The plan is based on the implementation of inter alia a Water Safety Plan per installation, which will force installation managers to gain a proper understanding of their financial, operational, risk assessment, asset management and administrative functions. A Blue Drop and Green Drop handbook is provided aimed at guiding process controllers and other staff in respect of best practice for managing water treatment plants. The entire process culminates in an annual assessment, the results of which is then recorded in the Blue Drop and Green Drop Reports.

It is, however, difficult to implement the plans due to the lack of inter alia human capacity problem and finances. The 2011 Green Drop Report shows an increase in the number of plants assessed from 444 in 2009 to 821 in 2010. This intimates that municipalities are eager to participate in the assessment process and to improve their plants.

Fact remains that the average score of wastewater treatment plants was disappointingly low, but with all the measures being implemented by DWAF, a marked improvement could be possible in the forthcoming assessments.

As far as potable water is concerned, the 2011 Blue drop Report provides relative comfort about the safety of our drinking water. The good news is that South Africa is still one of a few countries in the world where tap water is generally safe to drink.

UASA lodged an application in terms of section 77 of the Labour Relations Act towards the end of 2009 in which the union demanded that the countries’ water security situation must be restored. The negotiations at Nedlac are on-going. Early indications are that the afore-mentioned could be a multi-billion rand challenge which will have to be funded from somewhere.