The National Water and Sanitation Master Plan states that the many failing water and wastewater treatment works are of great concern for public health and safety. WISA calls for the reinstatement of the highly successful incentive-based improvement programme which was curtailed a few years ago.
Of over 1150 municipal wastewater treatment works in South Africa, around 56% are in poor or critical condition and in need of both rehabilitation and the services of skilled staff such as qualified process controllers. Of over 960 water treatment works, 44% are likewise in a poor or critical condition.
In 2008, the Department of Water and Sanitation (then the Department of Water Affairs) introduced the Blue Drop and Green Drop certification programmes. These measured the most important indicators for sustainable and safe water and wastewater service delivery, such as: management commitment; safety and risk planning and mitigation; process management; quality compliance; staff qualifications; and adequate budgets. The goal of the Blue Drop programme was compliance of water supply systems with the national Drinking Water Quality Standards, while the goal of the Green Drop was compliance of wastewater treatment works with the national Wastewater Discharge Standards.
The incentive-based Blue Drop and Green Drop programmes aimed to raise the awareness of municipalities of good practice in water supply and wastewater treatment. They led directly to many municipalities investing in their water and sanitation staff and infrastructure, and thereby improving their performance. The programmes also generated a wealth of data which allowed the Department and the water and sanitation sector at large to plan and manage the water value chain more effectively.
The first Blue Drop and Green Drop reports were released in 2009 and each year thereafter until 2014. In 2012, the No Drop programme, which measured water usage indicators such as water use per capita, water losses and water use efficiency, was also introduced for each water supply area.
While these programmes were in place, there was widespread improvement in the know-how and compliance across much (regrettably not all) of the water and sanitation sector.
Unfortunately the Department has not commissioned these assessments since 2014. Some of the leading municipalities and entities have nonetheless undertaken self-assessment to enable improved management of their own systems.
Despite the absence of comprehensive up-to-date information, there is much evidence that both drinking water quality and the quality of the effluent discharged from wastewater treatment works have deteriorated in recent years. There is also ample evidence that Non-Revenue Water – water lost through leaks – has increased in many of the water systems.
It is for this reason that the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) calls for the urgent reinstatement of the Blue Drop, Green Drop and No Drop certification programmes. While the Minister of Water and Sanitation has promised to reinstate them, there is as yet no information about how and when this will happen.
Reinstatement of these programmes will:
- once again, as it did before, incentivize improved water supply and wastewater treatment performance, and
- measure this performance, thereby providing the Department and the water and sanitation sector at large with the information it needs to plan and implement improvement.