On tap: E. Coli et al?

Michele du Plessis

In 2012, the last official Blue and Green Drop Report was published by the Department of Water and Sanitation. In 2014, DWS published a National Overview Report that focused more on successes than on the failure of municipalities in South Africa. Their slogan: “Water is life, sanitation is dignity,” is an apt description of how it should be, as access to sufficient water is a right as enshrined in the Constitution.

But access to sufficient water is not enough. Access to potable water would be the correct phrase. The people of South Africa should have access to water that hasn’t got 6 000 000 units of Escherichia coli (E. coli) per 100ml, nor faecal coliforms, nitrates, phosphates, cyanide, arsenic and heavy metals in it. The presence of faecal coliform in aquatic environments may indicate that the water has been contaminated with the faecal material of humans or other animals. In short, there is shit in the water.

It is common knowledge that Thaba Chweu Local Municipality is one of the worst faring municipalities in South Africa. Therefore, it should not come as a great shock that TCLM is the lowest scoring municipality with regards to water and sanitation matters. The WSA Province 2014 National Log position for TCLM is 152, the last position, with a Blue Drop Score of 9.09% out of 100%. This means that the water and sanitation situation in TCLM is critical.

As there are no further blue and green drop reports published by DWS, it is not a farfetched assumption to say that the situation went from bad to worse. The Blue Drop (“BD”) 2014 Report was only released in January 2017, indicating that a total of 44 systems out of 1093 drinking water systems achieved BD status. More than 71% of wastewater treatment facilities is non-compliant, discharging more than 3 734 million (3,7 Billion litres) litres of wastewater (Toxic Waste) that is partially treated or untreated raw sewage causing severe pollution to the water resources of the country and placing the health of all our people at risk.

The water quality status of the tributaries at selected points along the main stem of the Sabie River is described in the report as follows: “The Sabie Sand Catchment consists of Thaba Chweu, Bushbuckridge and Mbombela Local Municipalities. These municipalities have Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW) that discharge wastewater into the Sabie River and some of its tributaries. The microbial quality of water in the Sabie River is heavily impacted/degraded and significantly above the tolerable levels. This is attributed to the impacts of various WWTW as well as overflows from manholes and non-functional pump stations.”

In the Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA) Report 2016 the following is stated: “At the site on the Sabie Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW), a strong smell of raw sewage is present. This indicates that the sewage overflow from man-holes in the Sabie town’s storm-water drainage is entering the river before it reaches the treatment works.

Downstream from the site is the Tweefontein Dam, an irrigated log-deck, sawmill, industrial areas, Simile village and the Sabie communities’ waste landfill site. A tributary located in the eastern portion of the catchment and Klein Sabie drains through an old abandoned mine. Analysis of water samples taken from the tributary in January 2008 indicated pH levels of 2.2, with elevated levels of some inorganic cations, anions, and ions, as well as heavy metals, indicating acid main drainage (Diedericks 2008).

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