News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Friday December 15th 2017

Sewage treatment report delayed – shocking findings suspected

Yugendree Naidoo

Government is expected to finally release a controversial report into the parlous state of South Africa’s sewage treatment plants next month – almost 10 months later than planned.

The Green Drop report is part of the national Green Drop certification programme launched by the National Department of Water and Environmental Affairs (DWAF) in late 2008.

The report’s delay, the DA claims is due to the shocking findings it contains as the breakdown of treatment plants all over South Africa has led to widespread pollution caused by sewage spillages into rivers, dams and other waterways.

The Green Drop programme was aimed at improving operations at wastewater treatment plants, with a target of 90% compliance, and the report was to be released in July 2009, following an announcement made by DWAF in the preceding month.

However, there is a mere 3% compliance level, with only 32 out of the country’s approximately 970 water treatment plants meeting safe discharge requirements, according to information on the DWAF website.

Experts cite a lack of infrastructure and maintenance as one of the main reasons for the poor performance of treatment works.
Expert water services consultant Kathy Eales said the widespread failure to upgrade and maintain infrastructure over many years could cost billions of rand to remedy. This was mainly due to government’s focus on eradicating service backlogs and expanding service coverage, while failing at the same tome to give adequate attention to expanding and upgrading the supporting infrastructure for wastewater collection and treatment as well.
Eales said there has been significant population growth since 1994, with massive urban development leading to a huge surge in the volumes of wastewater being generated.
“This has led to bottlenecks in treatment capacity, with the result that many treatment works can’t cope with the volumes of incoming effluent. Inadequate treatment of wastewater is inevitable in this context. ”

The maintenance of waste treatment works was also widely neglected by municipalities, which were more generally focussed on meeting service delivery targets.
“The focus has been on new connections rather than on the condition of existing sewer lines and the performance of existing treatment works.”
Like a car, any equipment or infrastructure will break down if it is not serviced and maintained properly, said Eales.

She said there is also a severe shortage of personnel who are adequately qualified to manage the complex bio-chemical treatment processes that wastewater management requires.
Eales said recent assessments by government revealed that the state of wastewater management in the country was worsening due to a combination of key professional, technical and artisan skills gaps, neglected maintenance and under-capacity of the infrastructure itself.

However the Green Drop is an excellent initiative, she said, because it highlights where the problems lie, and helps to focus remedial interventions.
“There is a long way to go in turning things around, but the Green Drop approach is definitely a move in the right direction.”

Another water specialist, who asked not to be named as she worked as a consultant to government, said: “Truthfully there are treatment works that are really deteriorating beyond any standard practice and would therefore require a significant turnaround strategy”.

She said the public should embrace the turnaround strategy by local government, but added: “Government is now paying the price for not keeping up checks and balance as the demand on infrastructure expanded”.
She said only financial sustainability, skills development and political will would improve the state of South Africa’s treatment works.

The report is being handled with the utmost care because the department is serious about turning around our water quality and since it was initiated by them also.
It’s important to inform the public about the truth as we have seen the results of this with the Blue Drop initiative performing extremely well as municipalities and mayors strive to get that status, she said.

National Department of Water and Environmental Affairs programme manager Leonardo Manus said the department was aiming at releasing the report in April this year, adding that the delay was due to the department performing an additional national risk-based assessment to ensure that baseline information covered all municipal waste water treatment facilities. This, rather than shocking findings was causing the delay, he said.
“This was a detailed task to ensure that those systems not assessed during the Green Drop audits would also be covered and that the department has an accurate and complete view on the status of municipal waste water in the country.”

Tags: Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, Green Drop programme, Kathy Eales, Leonardo Manus

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