The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has reiterated its commitment to enforce compliance and implement legislative measures to address water pollution across the country.
This comes as the department continues to implement bulk water projects and oversee several infrastructure maintenance projects aimed at ensuring access to water for all.
Water pollution in South Africa
Acting chief director in the department’s compliance, monitoring and enforcement unit, Siboniso Mkhaliphi, said the main source of pollution comes from wastewater treatment works (WWTWs) due to sewer blockages, poor operations and maintenance, as well as pollution from mining operations resulting in problems of acid mine drainage, particularly in mining provinces.
Mkhaliphi said the department has designated officials known as the Green Scorpions, who are members of the Environmental Management Inspectorate and working to prevent and curb the extent of water pollution.
“The Green Scorpions have a wide range of powers and functions and are empowered to investigate and effect arrests for water crimes,” Mkhaliphi said.
The Green Scorpions
According to Mkhaliphi, the Green Scorpions have investigated a total of 598 cases related to dysfunctional wastewater treatment since 2014, with most of the cases investigated following public complaints.
Mkhaliphi said that enforcement actions, including administrative, civil and criminal actions, were taken by the department against municipalities found to have violated the water legislation in relation to WWTWs.
He said the department embarks on legal processes as a last resort and only takes legal action after numerous attempts to persuade and compel the municipalities to rectify their non-compliance.
“The department has taken enforcement actions against municipalities which include the opening of five criminal cases which have been registered with the South African Police Services [Saps] and are still under criminal investigation, issuing of 148 notices of intention to issue a directive, as well as issuing of 74 directives and two court interdicts being granted in favour of the department,” Mkhaliphi said.
Over 100 unauthorised mines recorded
Mkhaliphi added that as a sector regulator, the department is also monitoring mines as they are one of the key perpetrators in terms of water pollution.
“We have monitored just over 240 of the 561 authorised mines for compliance with their water use entitlements since 2014. Of these, 159 mines recorded a compliance level below 50% in terms of the conditions in their authorisations.
“Moreover, while dealing with authorised but non-compliant mines, there are a recorded 152 unauthorised mines that the department is also dealing with. These mines are mainly in the Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces,” Mkhaliphi said.
To address ageing municipal wastewater infrastructure and poor operation and maintenance, Mkhaliphi said the department is working with the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA) to ensure that dysfunctional or in disrepair WWTWs are immediately repaired.
“We also partnering with Saps, the National Prosecuting Authority [NPA], as well as the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to ensure that water-related crimes receive necessary attention in terms of urgency and penalties. A training programme is also underway to capacitate Saps and NPA on the National Water Act.
“Some of the measures also include a training programme for Environmental Management Inspectors to build internal capacity and a joint operation committee with Eskom, to ensure that coal is sourced from compliant mines,” Mkhaliphi highlighted.
The department has further reiterated that the Blue and Green Drop Certification Programmes – which call for excellent drinking water and wastewater quality management – will help improve the quality of water supplied to residents and ensure that the state of wastewater treatment and water infrastructure at municipal level are up to standard.