Blue drop report reveals nearly half the Eastern Capes drinking water at risk

Issued by Vicky Knoetze, MPL
Shadow MEC for COGTA

Nearly half of the Eastern Cape’s drinking water is at risk, with the Department of Water and Sanitation saying some systems are so severely compromised they have been flagged as critical risks, where water safety for consumers cannot be guaranteed.

This is according to the latest Blue Drop report, the first of its kind to be released in nearly a decade. The report paints a devastatingly bleak picture of failing water systems across the province. Sadly, this report is already outdated, with microbiological data used sourced from January to December 2020.

The failing water systems and lack of adequate monitoring have been repeatedly highlighted by the Democratic Alliance and are the reason for the launch of our Eastern Cape Water Watch initiative.

The report shows 61% of the water systems monitored in the province failed their microbiological compliance, and a staggering 83% failed to achieve chemical compliance!

The microbiological failures present serious health risks to consumers, and the Department has called on municipalities where sustained failures to issue “boil water” notices to safeguard consumers while the root cause of the failure is investigated and resolved.

Further, the chemical compliance failures may present immediate or potential long-term health risks.

In terms of technical skills, 56% of supply systems are subject to poor technical skills with only 22% of systems having suitably qualified process controllers and only 19% having full maintenance teams in place.

The report also highlighted significant shortfalls in terms of water safety plans. Only 48% of supply systems have water safety plans with average compliance of only 28%.

There are 187 water supply systems in the Eastern Cape, comprising 248 water treatment plants with a combined capacity of 1285 megalitres per day – serving 5.3 million people.

When looking at the various factors mentioned above, 51% of supply systems have been classified as low-risk, 23.5% are medium risk, 11.2% (21 supply systems) are high-risk and a staggering 13.4% (25 supply systems) are classed as critical-risk.

The systems classed as high or critical risk, are placed under regulatory focus. In such cases, a red note is assigned that requires the Water Service Institution to submit a detailed corrective action plan within 60 days of the report being published. The plan must map the activities, responsible persons, timelines, and expected improvements as outlined in the Regulatory Comment.

The DA has already lodged Public Access to Information Act (PAIA) Applications for quarterly water testing reports from each municipality through our Water Watch initiative, and we will continue to monitor the water quality across the province.

We will also be submitting questions to the MEC of COGTA, Xolile Nqatha, to request feedback on what provincial interventions are being considered for the 25 supply systems that have been flagged as critical risk.

The Eastern Cape is a water-scarce province, and government needs to ensure that this precious resource is managed and maintained.