13 May 2009

Think before you drink tap water

While 22 municipalities around SA are set to receive awards for the quality of their tap water, over 50 have been warned to give urgent attention to their supply operations.

While 22 municipalities around South Africa are set to receive awards for the quality of their tap water, over fifty have been warned to give urgent attention to their supply operations.

According to the department of water affairs' Blue Drop Report 2009, released at the National Drinking Water Quality conference underway in Port Elizabeth, the quality of tap water in 54 of the country's municipalities cannot be guaranteed.

Lack of proper controls and management at some rural supply works means consumers in these areas could ingest micro-organisms such as E-coli and faecal coliforms, drinking water quality regulations manager, Leonardo Manus said.

"This risk exists if water disinfection is not properly and continuously done," he said. The Blue Drop Report singles out, among others, Jansenville and Klipplaat, under the jurisdiction of Ikwezi Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape, as two areas where "recurring bacteriological failures have been noted".

'Lack of control and management'
Manus said others in this category included Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga, and Kamiesberg and Mier in the Northern Cape.

"These suppliers have failed to display sufficient competence, there are fluctuating patterns of disinfection [of the water], and there is a lack of control and management," he said.

Speaking later at a media briefing, Manus said 402 water supply systems around the country had been assessed in an exercise that started late last year. Of these, 54 had failed - or been unable - to submit information required for Blue Drop certification.

To qualify for this, water service institutions have to achieve 95% or higher judged against a broad range of criteria, including compliance with drinking quality standards, safety and security plans, and monitoring programmes.

Joburg comes out tops
Manus stressed that those municipalities that had submitted information, but had not achieved Blue Drop status, were not supplying poor quality drinking water.

He also named Pedi in the Eastern Cape as the top-performing small-scale water supplier in South Africa. The water works at George in the Western Cape was the best medium-scale performer, while Johannesburg had topped the list of big suppliers.

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica will present awards to the 22 Blue Drop achievers at a gala dinner in Port Elizabeth's Feather Market Conference Centre. While the organisers of the dinner, which forms part of the conference, have been careful to ensure there is no bottled water in sight, the jugs of tap water being placed on the tables are, ironically, not up to Blue Drop standard.

Port Elizabeth is one of two major South African cities (the other is East London) not to achieve this status. On the day one of the conference, water affairs spokesman Themba Khumalo said the department was keen to assure the tens of thousands of soccer fans, set to flock south next year for the Soccer World Cup, that the country's tap water was safe to drink.

"We want to assure our visitors that South Africa's tap water is safe to drink, and there is no need for them to spend money on bottled water. They can do it out of choice, but not out of fear," he said.

List of Blue Drop water departments
Manus warned that those water works which were not operating properly and did not show a quick improvement would receive a "Red Drop" notice. "If improvement is not sufficient, then we will issue a Red Drop notice," he said.

The department is currently busy with a Green Drop Report – to be completed in four weeks - highlighting the state of waste water treatment plants around the country. It is understood that about half of them are not operating to standard.

In the Blue Drop report the department of water and environmental affairs warns it is "unable to ensure the public of the confidence it has in the DWQ [drinking water quality] managing abilities of these municipalities".

According to the document, these water service authorities are:

Eastern Cape:

  • Alfred Nzo District Municipality;
  • Baviaans Local Municipality;
  • Ikwezi Local Municipality;
  • Kouga Local Municipality;
  • Sundays River Local Municipality; and
  • Cacadu District Municipal Area.

Free State:

  • Mafube Municipality;
  • Metsimaholo Municipality;
  • Ngwathe Municipality;
  • Moqhaka Municipality;
  • Matjhabeng Municipality;
  • Nala Municipality;
  • Tswelopele Municipality;
  • Masilonyana Municipality;
  • Dihlabeng Municipality;
  • Mantsopa Municipality;
  • Kopanong Municipality; and
  • Naledi Municipality.


  • Kungwini Municipality;
  • Lesedi Municipality; and
  • West Rand District Municipality.


  • Umkhanyakude District Municipality.


  • Greater Sekhukhune;
  • Mogalakwena Municipality;
  • Mookgophong Municipality;
  • Mopani District Municipality; and
  • Thabazimbi Municipality.


  • Dipaleseng Municipality;
  • Ehlanzeni District Municipality;
  • Gert Sibande District Municipality;
  • Lekwa Municipality;
  • Mkhondo Municipality;
  • Msukaligwa Municipality;
  • Nkangala District Municipality;
  • Nkomazi Municipality;
  • Steve Tshwete Municipality;
  • Taba Chweu Municipality; and
  • Thembisile Municipality.

Northern Cape:

  • Hantam Local Municipality;
  • John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality;
  • Kai !Garib Local Municipality;
  • Khai-Ma Local Municipality;
  • Richtersveld Local Municipality;
  • Siyancuma Local Municipality;
  • Sol Plaatjie Local Municipality; and
  • Tsantsabane Local Municipality.

North West:

  • Bojanala District Municipality;
  • Matlosana City Council;
  • Madibeng Municipality;
  • Maquassi Hills Municipality; and
  • Merafong Municipality.

Western Cape:

  • Hessequa Local Municipality;
  • Oudtshoorn Local Municipality;
  • Swellendam Local Municipality.

(Sapa, May 2009)

Read more:
Not all SA tap water safe
SA facing water crisis


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