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

Invasive aliens threaten stressed water supply

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 08 October 2010

Climate change is likely to increase the threat invasive alien Acacia plants, including wattles, rooikrans and Port Jackson, pose to South Africa’s already highly stressed water supply.

It will cost R34 billion to rid South Africa of invasive alien plants

In a written reply to a parliamentary question, tabled on Friday, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said recent studies showed some Acacia species could respond to warmer conditions by developing stronger, deeper root systems, which sucked up more water.

“The research on the impacts of climate change on the ability of invasive alien plants species to out-compete indigenous vegetation is being led by the SA National Biodiversity Institute.

“So far, one of the most significant findings was that the root and shoot systems of some Acacia species could become stronger, which means that they will be able to access water deeper below the soil surface.

“This could make them more aggressive and increase the potential for invasions, leading to an even bigger threat to our natural resources and biodiversity.”

Research on this was ongoing, but “very expensive” and dependent on the availability of funding, Sonjica said.

Earlier this year, an Agricultural Research Council (ARC) report, commissioned by the department of water affairs, found invasive alien plants now infest 20-million hectares of South Africa — an area twice as large as previously estimated.

Among the ARC’s findings were that invasive black, green and silver wattles alone have taken over more than 1.6-million hectares of the country.

The two most badly affected provinces in this regard are the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, where an estimated 600,000 and 300,000 hectares (condensed areas) respectively have been overrun by alien wattles.

In her written reply, Sonjica said recent research — by the Water Research Commission — in KwaZulu-Natal showed stream flow increased by 75,000 cubic metres a year after 65.4 hectares of invasive black wattles were cleared from one study area.

She said the research had also shown that reduction in stream run-off per hectare was twice as great in wattle-infested areas adjacent to streams compared to water losses in infested areas further away from them.

Earlier this year, a senior water affairs official told Sapa that a “conservative” estimate of what it would cost to rid South Africa of invasive alien plants was R34 billion, spent over the next 25 years.

Related Article: Alien plant coverage shocks Water Affairs

Information on dysfunctional sewage plants will not be made public

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 15 September 2010

In a written reply to parliamentary questions, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said revealing such information could lead to “serious misinterpretation” of the data.

Not all waste-water treatment works meet the licencing standard

“What is available and was published… in the 2009 Green Drop Report, is the summary of the performance of each of the 449 WWTWs [waste water treatment works] that were assessed,” she said.

The Green Drop Report—an audit of 449 of South Africa’s 852 municipal WWTWs, conducted between August 2008 and July 2009 — was released, after long delays, in April this year.

According to the document, a total of 403 facilities were not assessed due to, among others, “municipal officials not sufficiently confident in their levels of competence” and “municipalities not managing waste water services according to expected requirements”.

It also found that of the 449 works that were assessed, skills shortages had resulted in many not being operated correctly and “the effluent water quality is no longer compliant”.

Among the parliamentary questions posed to Sonjica – by Democratic Alliance MP Annette Lovemore – was whether information for all WWTWs would be made available to the public, and if not, why not.

The minister replied: “No, such detail information is not available to the public. Revealing details of such a high technical nature will lead to unnecessary additional administrative challenges and serious misinterpretation.”

Speaking to Sapa, Lovemore said not making public information on potential threats to people’s health was unacceptable.

“It’s not acceptable. Each municipality is required to report on results each month. If there is a health risk, people should be told.”

She said that over and above the risks to human health of sewage water finding its way into rivers and streams, the contaminated water also affected crop irrigation, drinking water for livestock and the health of the environment.

In her reply, Sonjica further said that not all WWTWs had been issued licenses or permits to operate. She did not say how many.

Reasons for municipal sewage works not having operating licenses included that some had not applied for one, some did not meet the standard required for a license, and others had “insufficient capacity” to submit the application.

Her department had launched a special project “to address the current backlog in licences”, she said.

– Sapa

Municipality to supply water to 27000 people

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 11 September 2010

In an attempt to combat its water problems, Amathole District Municipality (ADM) yesterday launched a project worth R110 million to supply water to villages where dams have run dry.

The district was declared a disaster area by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Buyelwa Sonjica in July last year, as levels reached a critical point. Since then, ADM has established a joint operations committee to develop a drought action plan.

ADM spokesperson Gail Pullen said: “Funding application for drought relief was made in the amount of R156 million and to date the municipality has received only R12.4 million from national Treasury in this new financial year.”

Yesterday, ADM launched its infrastructure project at Ehlobo in the Mnquma Municipality (Butterworth and surrounds), which will supply potable water to 27150 people in 38 villages.

Currently, the villages source their water from streams and springs which are subject to seasonal variations and do not provide an assured water supply. Similar projects will be launched in Amahlathi (Stutterheim and Cathcart) and Mbhashe (Dutywa and Willowvale) municipalities.

Plans by ADM to upgrade infrastructure come as various towns in the district record lower than normal dam levels. “The Butterworth and Dutywa areas have a looming water crisis as the Xilinxa Dam, which provides water to these areas, is now at 29.8percent,” said Pullen. This means only four to five weeks of water is left – unless it rains.

South African Weather Services’ Port Elizabeth-based forecaster Mandisa Manentsa said there was a 30 percent chance of rain today in the areas along the coast and adjacent areas, such as Dutywa and Butterworth, but no rainfall was expected next week.

ADM also reported that the Cathcart Dam was empty and the community now relied on borehole water. Local farmer Bruce Fletcher said the situation is bad. “There’s nothing in town and on the farms. We are praying for the big rains.”

The Bridledrift Dam, which is Buffalo City’s basic water supply, is at 19percent.

By: Xolisa Mgwatyu
Source: Dispatch Online

Experts to assess extent of acid mine drainage

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 07 September 2010

A team of experts is expected to assess the extent of acid mine drainage in the country and report back to an inter-ministerial committee appointed by Minister of Water Affairs Bulelwa Sonjica.

Johannesburg. Toxic water will eat away at the city's steel foundations.

Cabinet last month mandated the minister to urgently establish a special task team to investigate how government can best deal with reports of acid water drainage in some provinces.

Acid mine water, or water contaminated with heavy metals as a result of mining activities, is affecting the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and the Free State provinces. Reports suggest that this drainage could result in serious health and economic risks for the provinces and the country.

Speaking in Cape Town on Monday, Sonjica said the experts will appraise the risk and look at what has already been done by various institutions and then assess available solutions and technology.

“They will interrogate and assess viability costs of critical short-term interventions, integrate lasting and sustainable medium- and long-term solutions and explore possible partnerships with private sector,” Sonjica said.

The ministerial committee will reconvene in six weeks time to receive a detailed report from the team of experts covering a reappraisal of the risks and assessment of what has been done as well as the viability and costs critical short term intervention.

Responding to media reports that the streets in Johannesburg’s CBD will be flooded with toxic mine water in the coming months, Sonjica assured the public that the situation was under control and there was no need for people to panic.

As a short term measure an amount of R218 million has been budgeted by the department to fit the pumps and avert the situation.

The minister said the country has been faced with the problem of mine water effluent, including acid mine drainage, for over 100 years when mining began. At the time, no legislative measures were in place and environmental considerations were not prioritized.

Over the past 15 years, government has strengthened environmental regulation through the introduction of National Environmental Management Act, Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the National Water Act.

She said a major challenge for government was to find the perpetrators, naming the gold and coal mines as major culprits.

Source: BuaNews