As you are aware the North Gauteng High court delivered its judgment today on the matter concerning the supply of water to the residents of Carolina. We welcome the decision of the court and wish to indicate the even though there is no order against us as the Department of Water Affairs we will ensure that the judgment against the municipality is addressed.
The Department of Water Affairs has been and continues to work closely with all stakeholders - the Gert Sibande District Municipality, the Chief Albert Luthuli Local Municipality, the Inkomati Catchment Management Agency and other relevant parties - in an effort to ensure the supply of safe tap water is restored in Carolina. To date the Department has spent over R5 million in various initiatives following the discovery of the water contamination problem in January. This includes the provision of water tanks , tanker services and the Accelerated Community Infrastructure Programme in the Gert Sibande District Municipality to upgrade the water treatment works on behalf of the Chief Albert Luthuli Local Municipality.
I must point out that the Department was instrumental in declaring the water in Carolina unsafe for human consumption and sprang into action with the commissioning of the provisioning of interim water supply measures. The only time that this service was interrupted was during community unrest that led to the burning of some of the tanks and tankers.
As we has stated previously and to the court, as soon as the Department was notified of the problem in Carolina our Rapid Response Unit was dispatched to the area to help with efforts to restore water supply there. Together with the stakeholders DWA established a technical committee which is still in place and continues to monitor progress. Various initiatives were undertaken including those implemented on the advice of a Process Engineer, contracted by the Department to look at the water works. The Process Engineer among other things found that the capacity of the treatment plant charged with processing the water was too small to provide adequately for the demands of the Carolina community. This is a matter identified to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
During this critical period DWA has been assisting the municipality with the provision of water tanks and tankers to the affected communities while drinking water had not been declared safe to drink. This tankering service is still available and water is still being supplied to Carolina residents including the people of Silobela.
While the Department accepts and takes very seriously its role as regulator and custodian of water resources in the country, and remains committed to the spirit of cooperative governance it is worth noting that in terms of the Water Services Act, section eleven (11): and I quote¨ “Every water services authority has a duty to all consumers or potential consumers in its area of jurisdiction to progressively ensure efficient, affordable, economical and sustainable access to water services”, close quote.
The municipalities fall within the definition of water services authorities and are therefore, responsible for ensuring access to water services in their areas of jurisdiction. We have stated this fact in court. However, this position must not be misunderstood to imply an attempt to renege on our stated role as custodian of water resources. In fact the Department, in accordance with its regulatory function had conducted a thorough assessment of the treatment plant capabilities and shortcomings in the Chief Albert Luthuli Municipality late last year as part of the Blue Drop audits prior to the contamination problem and had made recommendations for urgent improvements.
Despite a number of challenges in the provision of the tankering services, such as when community members burnt the water tankers the Department officials continue to be in the teams assist with the supply of potable water in the affected areas. I want to appeal to the community not to allow themselves to be used by elements wishing to derail the government’s efforts to bring services to them.
You will remember that the problem in the Carolina area is twofold: firstly the drinking water quality produced at the Water Purification Plant (WPP) was not suitable for drinking, and secondly the raw water quality had a low pH, which also had an impact on the presence of heavy metals in the water. This we have attributed in part to the effects of the mining activities in that part of the Mpumalanga province.
In March this year we issued pre-directives to the four mines (BHP Billiton, Siphethe Coal, Northern Coal Mimosa Operations and Xstrata Coal) in the Boesmanspruit quaternary catchment. These pre-directives required the mines to provide information and data that will assist the Inkomati Catchment Management Agency (ICMA) to conduct and conclude an investigation into pollution of Boesmanspruit Dam, which is the sole source of raw water for the Carolina town.
The mines continue to be held responsible to clean up all point sources of pollution. Areas in the vicinity of Siphethe Coal and Northern Coal (Witrand Road) are currently being cleaned up, including coal deposit along the Witrand Road and the culvert. The mining water decant at Witkrans (which remains a point source) is being addressed with Siphethe Coal to contain and treat all water that is currently decanting.
It is however important for me to point out that the water situation in Carolina has improved significantly.
I am very pleased to announce that we received audit sample results this morning which confirmed that the Carolina drinking water now complies well with the South African Standard. The parameters of pH, aluminium, iron, manganese and sulphates comply with the set health limits and this is confirmed by three consecutive results from two separate reputable laboratories. Based on these results I would like to pronounce that the drinking water of Carolina be declared safe for human consumption by my responsible technical unit, once again however I wish to urge the Chief Albert Luthuli Municipality to remain vigilant with regard to process control and operational monitoring.
In spite of this most welcome announcement, we are aware of the fact that there remains so much to do to ensure that the source of the pollution is dealt with in most effective manner. We will proceed with our catchment management responsibilities together with the Inkomati CMA, and will intensify the regulation of activities impacting on the quality and quantity of our water resources.
I thank you