Report reveals rotten state of SA’s sewage plants

The shocking state of South Africa’s sewage plants, which treat billions of litres of waste water each day, was revealed in the long-awaited Green Drop Report officially released by Water Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica on Thursday.

Among its findings are that “the bulk of the plants can be described as poor to non-functional”.

According to the document — which includes a “first-order assessment” of municipal treatment plants, conducted between August 2008 and July last year — close to half (403) of the 852 waste water treatment plants around the country were not in a state to be assessed.

Of the 449 that were, only 203 scored “better than 50% in measurement against the stringent criteria set”.

A scant 32 treatment plants — about 3,8% of the total — received so-called Green Drop status, which is broadly equivalent to them complying with international standards.

The majority of the plants that won the award are located in or around Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The report’s findings imply that hundreds of millions of litres of untreated or inadequately-treated sewage is being illegally discharged into rivers and streams each day, mainly by small town municipalities.

Referring to the 403 treatment works that were not assessed, the document noted that municipal officials at these plants were, among other things, “not sufficiently confident in their levels of competence to be subjected to assessments”.

Another reason given was municipalities “not adhering” to a call to be assessed.

“It was found that most facilities in the rural areas and smaller towns are not adequately equipped with staff of appropriate skills and this constrained the performance of these systems,” the report stated.


Free State, Limpopo fingered
The report examined municipalities by province. The lowest scoring of these, with a provincial average of 15%, was the Free State, where only eight out of 20 water service authorities took part in the Green Drop assessment.

Another province where “most of the municipalities had low scores” was Limpopo. The province scored an average 18%, with only four of its 13 water service authorities assessed.

A water service authority (WSA) controls a region in a province, and may serve more than one municipality within that area.

In a section titled “Key Findings and Way Forward”, the report said skills shortages existed at all levels of waste-water treatment management.

“The result is that many plants are not operated correctly, and the resultant effluent water quality is no longer compliant.

“A poor understanding of the technicalities of waste-water treatment and … treatment plants is prevalent under senior town management and administration; the needs of the plant and its operators are therefore not prioritised.”

There was also a poor understanding of funding needs.

Maintenance a ‘luxury’
“As a result, maintenance of infrastructure may have become a luxury rather than a necessity. The state of the bulk of the plants can be described as poor to non-functional. In many cases, extensive refurbishment and expansion of the current plants are required … [and] the processes employed at plants are no longer sufficient to deliver the required final water quality,” said the report.

At a parliamentary media briefing earlier this month, Sonjica said her department would ideally need “more than R100-billion” over the next three years to tackle challenges such as upgrading and refurbishing sanitation infrastructure, and hiring skilled staff.

A month earlier, she denied there was a sanitation crisis, but said her department was worried about municipal sewage plants.

“I wouldn’t say there was a crisis in a way that would make people run, really, but there are serious concerns, we have very serious concerns … as the regulator,” she said at the time.

The report said South Africa’s 852 sewage plants and pipelines treat and transport about 7,589-billion litres of waste water a day. The estimated capital replacement value of the infrastructure was about R23-billion, and estimated operational expenditure was about R3,5-billion a year.

On municipalities that do not comply with the required sewage treatment standards, it threatened to place low-scoring authorities under “close surveillance”. – Sapa

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Small towns not ready for level 3

Officials in Beaufort West, which is on a route that links the Cape with the rest of the country, are worried relaxed lockdown regulations mean residents are now at risk of contracting Covid-19
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday