SA tap water could be undrinkable in 19 years

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 09 March 2011

Tap water in SA could be undrinkable in the next 19 years if the country does not change the way it uses water, or how it treats used water, scientists say.

Already, some of the tap water in SA contains poisons.

Blue-green algae produce toxins that rob water bodies of oxygen.

Poor quality water will negatively affect the economy, curbing the manufacturing sector directly and indirectly, says limnologist Bill Harding. Limnology is the study of freshwater bodies.

Despite Water Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica promising a turnaround in the parlous state of wastewater treatment almost a year ago, there has been no visible action taken to curb the risk from semi-treated water discharged into SA’s rivers and reservoirs, the scientists say.

Last year’s Green Drop (wastewater quality) report showed that only 32, or 3%, of SA’s estimated 850 wastewater treatment works complied with requirements for safe discharge. The report noted that only 449 of the works had been assessed, with the rest either ignoring, or being unable to comply with, the call to submit to scrutiny.

Only 32 (7%) complied with the Green Drop criteria after being measured for E. coli bacteria, nitrates, phosphates and ammonia and other nasties.

The national Green Drop Programme was launched in 2008 and was meant to cover all wastewater treatment works so as not to harm the water bodies into which they discharge their product. Continue reading

Water crisis will eclipse Eskom crisis

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 29 November 2010

“The sheer cost of the water crisis will totally eclipse the arms deal, the Eskom crisis and that in many other departments. While we have alternatives for energy, we don’t for water, so the impacts of the water crisis will knock on through all socioeconomic levels.”

Decrease in water quality will have different negative effects on individual economic sectors

That’s the sobering message from Bill Harding, co-founder of DH Environmental Consulting and the previous chairman of the SA Institute of Ecologists and Environmental Scientists.

The water crisis had been in effect in Gauteng for the past 10 to 20 years, with no sign of abating, Harding said.

“There are sub-regional crises in other areas in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and then urban crises in many situations, such as Welkom. The bulk of the problem originates from inadequately treated waste water,” he said.

His comments follow a study conducted by economic research and advisory firm Plus Economics on behalf of trade union United Association of SA.

The study shows that a 1% decline in the quality, and therefore usability, of water in the country could lead to the loss of 200000 jobs and a decline of 5.7% in disposable income per capita, as well as a rise of 5%, or R18.1-billion, in government spending.

Plus Economics chief executive Charlotte du Toit said that the macroeconomic effects of decreased water quality included a rise of 28% in the ratio of government debt to GDP; a decline of R16-billion in household spending; a 1% drop in GDP growth; and a decrease of R9-billion in total fixed investment. Continue reading

SA dams: a rapidly worsening water crisis

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 27 June 2010

By Bill Harding, a limnologist (aquatic sciences), who has been involved with issues to do with SA dams since the ’70s

South Africans will be aware that our country is not blessed with abundant rainfall, with an average of only 450mm a year, compared with the global average of 860mm a year.

Without substantial supplies of underground water, we rely heavily on water that is stored in dams. Our reliance on stored water is rendered critical by population growth and industrial expansion. Water resources per capita of population are dwindling.

Brandvlei Dam. Pressure on many dams is increasing, with a considerable portion of their inflows made up of wastewater effluents and urban runoff.

At the same time, pressure on many dams is increasing, with a considerable portion of their inflows made up of waste-water effluents and urban runoff.

The Department of Water Affairs and Environment manages 574 dams, of which 320 are major dams, each holding more than a million cubic metres of water. From this storage, irrigation uses 62%; urban and domestic use equals 27%; and mining, industry and power generation absorb 8%. Commercial forestry utilises 3%.

Evidence suggests that the quality of about 35% of the storable volume is already severely impaired – and nearly all of this in the economic heartland of Gauteng. Water quality is in fact poorest in the areas with lowest runoff and highest contribution to GDP.

Insidious and sinister changes are appearing in some dams, completely unnoticed by routine monitoring programmes. From this it may be reasonably assumed that SA would possess a national programme for reservoir management.

In recent months there have been many reports referring to a water crisis, mentioning the extreme levels of pollution in most Gauteng dams. Continue reading