In the last four years, more than 40 criminal cases have been opened against municipalities around the country for contravening provisions of the National Water Act, including discharging sewage into rivers.
On Tuesday, Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu released the full Blue Drop Report, which assessed the state of all drinking water systems in South Africa.
He also released the Green Drop progress report, which looked at the state of several wastewater treatment systems in the country.
The progress report assessed 867 wastewater treatment works (WWTW) managed by 144 municipalities, 107 WWTWs run by the Department of Public Works and 29 under the care of Eskom, Nedbank, Sasol and SANParks.
According to the findings, from the total of 1 003 WWTWs, 66% were placed in the high- and critical-risk categories.
"WWTWs in the high risk or critical risk category are resulting in high levels of pollution through discharging partially treated or untreated water into rivers and the environment," water and sanitation department director-general Dr Sean Phillips said in a presentation.
"This has negative environmental implications and poses risks to human health, e.g. cholera outbreaks are normally associated with wastewater pollution of water resources."
Phillips added that the number of WWTWs in the high- and critical-risk categories increased since 2013.
The department also revealed that it opened 41 criminal cases against no fewer than 29 municipalities since 2019.
Sixteen of the 41 criminal cases were opened by the Department of Water and Sanitation.
Department spokesperson Wisane Mavasa said the cases were opened against the municipalities in terms of the National Water Act for:
- Unlawfully and intentionally or negligently committing any act or omission which pollutes or is likely to pollute a water resource.
- Unauthorised use of water.
- Failure to comply with any conditions attached to authorisations under the act.
- Failure to comply with a directive from the department as a regulatory body.
Mavasa added that if found guilty, municipalities could face fines, or the accounting officer at the city or water service authority could even face jail time.
Major metros with cases opened against them include the City of Tshwane, with five cases, Johannesburg with three, and two cases opened against the City of Ekurhuleni.
News24 reached out to the City of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni for comment, which will be added if received.
The list of alleged transgressions by each municipality was not made available to News24 at the time of publishing.
Blue Drop Report
News24 earlier reported that according to the 2023 Blue Drop Report, South Africa's drinking water quality has severely reduced since 2014, with nearly half the country's water not safe to drink.
The report, which assessed all 958 water supply systems (WSS) in each of the country's 144 water services authorities (WSA), painted a grim picture of the water quality and infrastructure.
Based on water quality testing municipalities carried out during the 2021/2022 financial year when the Blue Drop Audit was being carried out, 46% of water tested was poor or bad for microbiological water quality compliance, which means it contained microbes, or bacteria, it should not have contained.
This represented a sharp increase from the 5% recorded in 2014.
"It was therefore not microbiologically safe to drink the water in almost half (46%) of our drinking water systems at times during 2022 when the Blue Drop audit was done, which resulted in increased risk of life-threatening waterborne diseases, such as cholera and chronic diarrhoea," Phillips said.
The report did, however, find that drinking water quality was generally good in the major metropolitan areas.
The Blue Drop Report also carried out assessments on the condition of infrastructure, looking at whether required maintenance was being done, whether the infrastructure was operated correctly, and whether proper treatment processes were followed.
To this end, 26 water supply systems scored more than 95% and qualified for the prestigious Blue Drop Certification. This marked a significant decline compared to 2014 when 44 water supply systems were awarded Blue Drop status.
However, according to the findings, 47% of the country's water supply systems were in a poor or critical condition.
The report found that Gauteng had the highest percentage of drinking water systems with excellent or good performance (62%), followed by Western Cape (50%). In comparison, the Northern Cape had the highest percentage of drinking water systems with poor or critical performance (87%). This has deteriorated from 48% in 2014.
The percentage of drinking water systems with poor or critical performance in the Free State had also deteriorated markedly from 31% in 2014 to 59% in 2023.