Drinking water quality improving, but wastewater still a concern

South Africa’s drinking water quality improved over the last three years, but the quality of wastewater treatment services went down, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said on Thursday.

drinking water quality

“We can now see a positive trend in the way drinking water quality is being managed,” she said, announcing the results of the ‘Green Drop’ and ‘Blue Drop’ certification programme.

Blue DropThe Blue Drop programme for drinking water quality management and the Green Drop programme for wastewater quality management were instituted in 2008 by the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) as an incentive-based form of regulation to encourage municipalities to achieve excellence in the areas of water and wastewater quality management.green drop certification

Molewa said that 914 water supply systems in 162 municipalities were assessed in 2011, compared with 787 systems in 153 municipalities in 2009, showing a marked improvement in submissions by municipalities.

Of the systems assessed, 59% achieved Blue Drop scores of over 50% in 2011, compared with 47% of the systems having achieved this result in 2010.

On a provincial level, the report showed that all provinces increased their Blue Drop scores in 2011, when compared with the results of the very first assessment in 2009.

However, compared with the results from last year, the scores of the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and North West declined, with Mpumalanga’s decrease being the most dramatic, from 65.4% to 56.5%. Mpumalanga also had the lowest 2011 Blue Drop score of all provinces.

Gauteng and the Western Cape had the highest 2011 Blue Drop scores with 95.1% and 94.1% respectively.

The Green Drop results showed that the number of wastewater treatment systems assessed had also increased significantly over three years, from 449 systems in 2009 to 821 systems in 2011.

However the Green Drop report showed a negative trend in the quality of the wastewater treatment services, with the number of systems that scored more than 50% having decreased from 49% in 2009 to 44% in 2011.

Molewa said that the results showed that challenges remained in wastewater management and highlighted a lack of human capacity and maintenance of treatment systems as some of the key concerns.

Wastewater treatment services in Limpopo and the Free State are in a particularly dire state, with these provinces scoring only 24% and 32% respectively.

“The bulk of the Free State municipalities did not meet the requirements of the regulation programme. With the exception of some positive trends, it is the regulatory impression that the wastewater services management are not on par with good practice and legislative compliance,” the report stated.

Provincially, the highest Green Drop scores were earned by the Western Cape (83%) and KwaZulu-Natal (82%).


Meanwhile, the DWA acknowledged the municipalities that achieved excellence in drinking water quality and wastewater regulation at a ceremony in Cape Town on Thursday evening, with the award of Blue Drop and Green Drop certificates.

To achieve Blue Drop status a water supply system must have a score of at least 95% and to achieve Green Drop status a wastewater system must achieve a score of at least 90%.

The number of Blue Drop awards given increased from 25 in 2009 to 66 in 2011, with the Western Cape achieving the highest number of awards (29) in 2011 and the Northern Cape receiving no awards. Mpumalanga received the second highest number of awards (8).

Ugu district municipality in KwaZulu-Natal scored the highest Blue Drop score with 98.8%. The municipality received Blue Drop certificates for four of its water supply systems.

The municipality to receive the highest number of Blue Drop certificates was the Steve Tswete local municipality in Mpumalanga which was presented with six awards.

Municipalities that use water boards to manage their drinking water systems dominated the awards.

DWA deputy director-general Helgard Muller said that more municipalities should consider the option of using private operators and already established water boards.

Speaking to Engineering News Online, Muller said that South Africa had the technical capacity in the private sector to carry out these services effectively. He didn’t rule out the possibility that in future the DWA may look at implementing legislation that could allow the department to compel municipalities with poor management of water quality and wastewater treatment to use private sector operators that have the technical skills and knowledge readily available.

Green Drop certificates were presented at the same ceremony and 40 water treatment systems achieved Green Drop status in 2011, compared to 33 in 2009. However 20 of the wastewater treatment systems that had Green Drop status before 2011 lost that status in the 2011 assessment. Of the Green Drop awards, 26 were for systems that received awards for the first time.

The Western Cape was given 19 Green Drop awards, the highest number for any province in 2011, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 11. Limpopo, the Free State and the Northern Cape received no Green Drop awards, which reflected their poor overall provincial Green Drop scores of 24% for Limpopo and the Free State and 26% for the Northern Cape.

The Tlokwe local municipality had the highest municipal Green Drop score of 97%, receiving one Green Drop certificate. The highest number of Green Drop awards given to any municipality was 11 for the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality.

Source: Engineering News (Jean McKenzie)

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