Water and Environmental Affairs Minister concerned over water quality

Johannesburg - Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica says her department is concerned about the impact of deteriorating water quality in the country and has called on role players to come up with ways to avert the situation.

Speaking at an AgriSA Water Conference on Wednesday, Sonjica said one of the successful intervention methods government had developed was the so-called Green Drop Certification Programme, an incentive-based regulation approach to address challenges in the municipal wastewater sector.

"Currently we have more than 50 qualified assessors conducting consultative audits on the management of the waste water treatment works with the objective of guiding local authorities in the direction of excellence," she said.

The 2009 Green Drop Report found that at least 203 waste-water services systems, out of the 449 assessed, scored better than 50 percent measured against the stringent set criteria. About 7.4 percent of all waste-water systems were classified as excellently managed, which is encouraging and proves that the benchmark is not an impossible feat. Sonjica said the department was on its way to meet the 2010 target of assessing 100 percent of the municipal wastewater treatment works.

The design capacity of some of these waste-water systems has been stretched to the limit due to population growth and other economic factors. Shortcomings in the local government funding model as well as the skills deficit in the labour market exacerbated the problem even further.

She urged the farmers gathered at the conference to work with authorities to turn the tide on illegal water abstraction in a bid to save the country's water.

The department has issued a total of 239 directives between 2009 and this year and 31 of these have been resolved positively and 14 are currently before the courts. "The rest of these are undergoing the rigorous process of being resolved. We will intensify this aspect of our work to ensure that we bring to book all offenders," she said.

South Africa is rated among the water scarce countries in the world and Sonjica said government was now planning to introduce water courts to deal with all water related crimes. "It's a serious matter for us and you will soon be invited to the launch of these courts because we want to strengthen our regulatory bodies in this regard".

Meanwhile, the minister dismissed recent media reports that the water beneath Johannesburg was rising at an alarming rate. Reports have claimed that if nothing is done, from around November next year the underground toxic water from the mines in Johannesburg will start to decant. According to investigative television programme, Carte Blanche, 57 Million litres of toxic water will be looking for a place to surface every day.

"We are all aware of those media reports but what I can tell you that we have measures in place to avert such situations," she said.

She said efforts to reduce the impact of waste-water effluent in the Berg River in the Western Cape promise to have major benefits for the agricultural sector, since irrigation water quality is bound to improve. A duplicate initiative was also underway in the catchment of the Hartbeespoort Dam. - BuaNews