Business 14.4.2018 06:35 pm

Growing concern over the quality of municipal water

All tap water in SA should be purified before drinking the author advises. Picture: Shutterstock

All tap water in SA should be purified before drinking the author advises. Picture: Shutterstock

The Blue Drop Report provides insights on drinking-water quality.

In January 2017, the Blue Drop Report 2014 was released by the Department of Water and Sanitation, which showed that of the 1 036 municipal drinking water systems evaluated only 44 complied with Blue Drop status standards.

The results of the report are concerning. With low water levels in our dams as well as aging infrastructure, it is critical to monitor such reports. The consumption of water with contaminants and toxic bacteria can have devastating effects.

The Blue Drop Report provides information on drinking-water quality compliance with the National Standard (SANS 241). Previous Blue Drop Reports showed the quality of drinking-water improved between 2009 and 2012, but the 2014 Blue Drop reported a decline.

As the preamble to the report states: “Access to sufficient water is a right as enshrined in the Constitution. However, it cannot be said that this right is realised if the quality of that water poses health risks for human consumption.”

At a briefing of the National Assembly Committee on Water and Sanitation, in January 2017, the following was noted in the minutes published by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group:

  • Gauteng’s water achieved a score of 92% against the National Standard (SANS 241), a decline from 98% in 2012.
  • The Western Cape scored 89% in the 2014 report, down from 94% in 2012.
  • KwaZulu-Natal’s score decreased from 92% in 2012 to 86% in the 2014 report.
  • Free State declined by 7.2% from 82% in 2012 to 75% in the 2014 report.
  • The Eastern Cape’s Blue Drop score declined from 82% in 2012 to 72% in the 2014 report.
  • Mpumalanga increased its score from 60.9% in 2012 to 69.9% in the 2014 report.
  • The Northern Cape was unchanged at 68%.
  • North West declined from 79% in 2012 to 63% in the 2014 report.
  • Limpopo declined from 79% in 2012 to 62% in the 2014 report.

“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 Bryan Ashe of the KZN Water Caucus.

Bear in mind, that the 2014 report is looking at 2013 data. The status of SA’s drinking water currently is unknown. The department is still struggling to get the 2015 report out on 2014’s data.

In its annual report 2016/17, the deputy minister wrote in the foreword “South Africa is a water scarce country and this reality is further compounded by the deterioration of water quality. The issue of water quantity and quality has a huge impact on the resource.”

The Department’s Annual Performance Plan 2017/18 to 2020/19 also noted that “South Africa has been experiencing a decline in the quality of water in dams, rivers, wetland, estuaries and aquifers”.

Three provinces (Eastern, Western and Northern Cape) “remain National Disaster areas as announced by the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs … due to low water levels”, the minister at the time noted. “Full recovery [from the drought] is only anticipated in about three years’ time.”

In October last year Bill Harding, an internationally-recognised algologist, warned that “the drought, seen in the main as a shortage of water (a quantity issue) also embodies a very real quality threat”.

South Africans should not take chances with their health, say the experts. Make sure all water coming out of your taps is purified.

Do you know the loaf of bread analogy? When you buy a loaf of bread from the supermarket, it has a plastic bag around it to make sure it does not get contaminated whilst it makes its way from the manufacturer to your bread bin. Do you eat the plastic bag? No, you remove it.

Think of the water you get from your taps in the same way. The chemicals that your municipality puts in the water protect the water as it travels down the pipes to your home. When you turn the tap on, surely you want the chemicals removed just before you drink it.

All South Africans should be purifying their tap water, particularly until the latest Blue Drop Report has been released. Put the health of your family first.

Tony Marchesini is the SA managing director of H2O International.

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