Municipalities face criminal charges over water quality in South Africa

 ·7 Jun 2023

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has laid criminal charges against some municipalities, while others have been instructed to notify their residents that the water may not be safe to drink following the latest water watch reports.

The DWS has issued non-compliance notices to 90 municipalities instructing them to correct the shortcomings identified in the Green Drop Report.

According to the Green, Blue and No Drop Watch Reports, released by the department on Tuesday (6 June), there has been a decline in drinking water quality and an increase in non-revenue water since the last reports were issued.

The Green Drop Watch Report indicates that 50% of municipalities whose wastewater treatment systems were found to be in a critical state in the 2022 Green Drop Report have failed to develop and implement plans to improve them.

The Green, Blue and No Drop Certification programmes are tools to provide regulatory information regarding water services, which are primarily the constitutional responsibility of municipalities.

The reports keep the public and stakeholders updated with credible data and information about the country’s water and sanitation services.

They also recognise water service institutions that achieve compliance and excellence in providing such services.

The 2022 full Green Drop Report, released in April 2022, found 334 out of 850 municipal wastewater systems in 90 municipalities in critical condition, receiving Green Drop scores of 30% and below.

Presenting the reports on Tuesday, DWS Director-General, Dr Sean Phillips, said in 2013 – when the last Green Drop assessment report was done – 248 out of 824 municipal wastewater systems were in critical condition, indicating a decline between 2013 and 2022.

Acting against non-compliance

Following the release of the 2022 Green Drop report, Phillips said the department issued non-compliance notices to the 90 municipalities, requesting them to submit corrective action plans to address the shortcomings identified in the Green Drop report.

However, by March 2023, he said the department had received corrective action plans from municipalities for 168 of the 334 wastewater systems.

He said 43 of the 90 municipalities requested support from the department to develop corrective action plans.

“By March 2023, only 34 of the 168 plans submitted to the department were being implemented, with the balance being in the planning phase or no progress reported,” said Phillips.

For municipalities that did not submit corrective action plans, the DWS has issued directives regarding the National Water Act, compelling them to submit such plans.

Criminal charges have been laid against some of the municipalities which have not submitted corrective action plans,” Phillips added.

The Blue Drop Watch Report sampled 151 out of 1,035 water treatment systems in the country and found that 3% were in critical infrastructural condition, 12% were in poor infrastructural condition, and 49% were in average infrastructural condition.

31% of the sampled water treatment works were in good condition, and only 5% were in excellent condition.

On microbiological water quality compliance, 39% of systems achieved excellent status; 11% achieved good; 9% achieved poor, and 41% achieved bad.

Regarding chemical water quality compliance, 17% of systems achieved excellent status; 13% achieved good; 15% achieved poor, and 55% achieved bad.

“During the audit period, 11 municipalities did not report water quality data to the department or provide any other evidence that they have been testing their water quality.

“The department has issued non-compliance notices to those municipalities, instructing them to issue advisory notices to their residents that their water might not be safe to drink if it has not been properly tested,” Phillips said.

The department said the interim Green Drop and complete Blue Drop Reports would be released in July, while the full No Drop Report will be released in September 2023.

Read: South Africa’s plan to save its water industry

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter