Five ways to start fixing SA’s deteriorating water

SA faces a water quality crisis. Here are five crucial solutions to address poor water standards, protect health, and secure the economy.

South Africa’s poor water quality is becoming a crisis across many municipalities, putting our health and economy at risk.

In June, the water and sanitation department’s findings in its interim Blue Drop report showed that only 39% of SA’s treatment systems were rated “excellent” in terms of microbiological quality compliance, 11% were good, 9% were poor and 41% were bad.

This means only 10% of municipalities had bad or poor microbiological water quality in the 2012 report compared with 50% in the latest one.

Addressing SA’s water crisis

Rapid urbanisation, income growth, and increased pollution levels in our rivers are among key reasons why we’re facing challenges with water quality.

But some municipalities and districts are also running out of funds for basic operational requirements to treat contaminants in wastewater, while others lack good management and expertise.

Several measures must be adopted to turn things around. Five are outlined below:

Making engineers great again

Municipalities are relying more on administrators and finance managers than engineers for critical water waste management and maintenance issues.

The reasons are varied, with some municipalities needing structural changes or cost savings.

To manage water effectively, we must start creating an organisational culture of putting engineers at the centre of decision-making.

They should be of the highest calibre and lead administrations on key decisions that will result in the best-quality water and sewage management.

Embracing technological advances and exploring management partnerships between the public and private sector will help to promote skills development and capacity-building.

Reporting and consequence management

Having the right engineers is only one part of the solution. Another is reporting and consequence management in municipalities and districts.

With the department moving to republish the Blue Drop report last year (after it was paused in 2014), is a step in the right direction.

It’s important to know that the report is not focused only on water quality but with the overall management of water and waste systems.

This means some high-risk areas can be just a few steps away from having unsafe drinking water, while others need to issue red notices or warnings to residents.

This provides a gauge of underperformance. More importantly, it informs the government of where it must act swiftly.

In cases of neglect, municipal managers should face the consequences. Government must step in and immediately fix problems where they have failed.

Smarter use of wetlands

Research shows that wetlands can act as natural water filters for man-made water systems. This is because their plants, soils and microbes can absorb harmful pollutants.

SA should take a closer look to ensure that industry is more responsible in emitting effluent into rivers.

This might require implementing stricter rules on the quality of water pumped from industry into the environment.

READ: SA’s drinking water crisis: Quality dropped due to neglect

Funding and supply chains

Local and provincial government need t realise that allocating funding for water projects is a long-term investment.

Insufficient capital and operational expenditure at municipalities hinder infrastructure development and maintenance.

Proper planning, investing in projects and sound financial management are crucial to ensure optimal use of resources.

It’s also important to pay more attention to supply chains of water maintenance.

Buying high-quality components or more investment in repairs will go a long way to ensure long- term sustainability.

READ: Hammanskraal cholera outbreak: ‘Stop passing the bucket’

Better long-term water planning

Our engineers, working with municipal managers, must ensure there are long-term plans to improve or maintain high quality water standards.

These plans must be sound enough to stretch over several years and potential changes in administrations.

We need to become more technocratic as a country when it comes to a precious resource such as water.

As part of this planning, the interconnection between water, energy and food security cannot be ignored because disruptions in one can affect the others.

Source: Blue Drop Report.

Read more on these topics

pollution water water crisis water pollution

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits