Blue Drop Green Drop Report: Department of Water and Sanitation briefing

Water and Sanitation

25 January 2017
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) briefed the Committee on the Blue Drop Green Drop progress Report.

The first Blue Drop Report in 2009 indicated that the national microbiological compliance for South African tap water was measured at 93.3% against the National Standard (SANS 241). There has been a regression since then as Blue Drop Score had occurred from 87.6% in 2012 to 79.6% in 2014. In terms of the provincial breakdown, Gauteng achieved the highest score of 92%, but it was a decline from 98% in 2012. Nine systems achieved Blue Drop status compared to 16 in 2012. The Western Cape was the second best performer with a score of 89% in 2014, which was also a decrease from 94% in 2012. Eight of its systems had attained Blue Drop status. The BD score of Kwa- Zulu Natal had decreased from 92% in 2012 to 86% in 2014, and eight of its systems attained BD status. The BD score for Free State had declined by 7.2% from 82% in 2012 to 75% in 2014. Six of its water supply systems achieved the BD status. Eastern Cape had a BD score that declined by 10% from 82% in 2012 to 72% in 2014 and none of its systems achieved Blue Drop status. However, there were three systems that had improved. Mpumalanga experienced an increased in its score from 60.9% in 2012 to 69.9% in 2014, and nine of its systems attained BD status. Northern Cape had no changes with a score of 68% in 2014 with two of its supply systems attaining BD status. Only four of its systems were in critical risk category compared to 40 in low risk in 2012 and 38 was in the low- risk category compared to two in 2012. The BD score for North West substantially declined from 79% in 2012 to 63% in 2014 and had only system that attained BD status. Limpopo experienced a substantial decline from 79% in 2012 to 62% in 2014. One of its systems attained BD status compared to nine systems prior in 2012.

The Department highlighted that challenges included having insufficient skilled process controllers to manage the water treatment plants and process the drinking water. Another challenge identified was the issue of monitoring; with respect to the inconsistencies and non-adherence to the monitoring programmes, as well as data uploading on the Blue Drop System. The issue of correct monitoring entails that Water Services Authorities (WSAs) register their monitoring programme on the Blue Drop System and if they fail to adhere to the stipulated monitoring programme the system will output that data had not been loaded, even though the data may have been loaded but done under an incorrect monitoring programme. Thirdly, it was discovered that WSAs were not always prepared for adverse incidents. Lack of infrastructure investment had also served as a key challenge.

The short- term interventions recommended by DWS included the monitoring and data uploading to be prioritised; implementation of water safety planning; improvement of final water compliance, and the sourcing of relevant technical skills. The medium to long- term interventions for the WSA included focused attention on the operational capacity within treatment plants; a programme undertaking infrastructure asset management should be devised, and an enhancement of sourcing funding should be addressed.

On the other hand, the Green Drop certification programme for wastewater is an initiative to ensure that these treatment works progressively improve their operations, so as not to impact negatively on the water bodies into which they discharge their product. The proposed system aims at awarding water services authorities with Green Drop Status if they comply with wastewater legislation and other best practices required by the Department of Water Affairs. This incentive-based regulatory approach is a first for South Africa, and is internationally regarded as unique in the water regulatory domain. The first Green Drop report was published in 2009, and it was developed in such a way that the tools had both incentive- and risk-based regulation. It was first published in 2012, and the report currently under review pertained to 2014. The difference between the two was that the Green Drop audit focused solely on the entire system and took into account the collection from household water into the pump station until it had reached the water treatment works, and the output of that would be the Green Drop Report. Audits were conducted for all of the 152 Water Services Authorities (WSA or municipalities) in the nine Provinces of South Africa. Assessment of 824 Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW) was made, and Local Government owned it, ie. Municipal sector. Four privately owned WWTW were assessed, as well as the 13 WWTW of Kruger National Park that the Department of Environment Affairs had managed. The criterion for the Risk Based Regulation took into account four indicators, viz. Design Capacity; Operational Flow; Effluent Failure, and Technical Skills. The cumulative risk comparative analysis started with 98 audits in 2008 that were voluntary audits by municipalities. Thereafter scrutiny of section 62 of the Water Services Act, No. 108 of 1997, proved that all municipalities were to be audited by the Minister, and this compelled mandatory audits of all 156 municipalities countrywide up until 2013 when amalgamations amongst municipalities had occurred into 152 and audits of so many had occurred since. The number of wastewater systems assessed in 2008 was 444, because it was voluntary, but in 2014 a total of 824 was assessed. The Average Cumulative Risk Ratings for overall criteria was at 13.4, which was a decrease from 12.2 in 2013. The other major concern was the Average Design Rating that stagnated from 1.4 in 2009 to 2014. The 2014 National Risk Profile experienced a decline of WWTP that were in low- risk to a 135 plants in 2014, but simultaneously there had been an increase in the Critical Risk categorisation to 212 plants. ·The majority of plants were in high risk with 259 plants and medium risk with 218 plants. The plants that regressed, in terms of performance, by taking up increased risk ratios will be placed under surveillance and continuously monitored on a quarterly- basis for implementation of corrective interventions and risk mitigation measures.
During the discussion, Members asked whether the current set targets would be achieved; what were the measures undertaken by the Department for the Provinces that under-performed as per the Provincial Blue Drop Score; what were the incentives and/or consequences in cases where there were lacking data or poor quality data that was uploaded; what remedial interventions were targeted specifically for the North West Province, because it was currently in a critical state; was there confidence by DWS that the installation of inflow-monitoring meters would be done, and if so, by when would its installation be expected; how would the Portfolio Committee be assured that the Department would, indeed, accomplish the feat of surveillance and ensure that there will be the necessary intervention; and if there would be revocation of licensing who would be in the capacity to deliver the service?
 

Meeting report

Mr Anil Singh, Deputy Director General: Policy and Regulation Department, Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS emphasised that the information was not new, because the Department had been busy with the report as of 2014/15. The Department deemed the programme as an incentive based flagship programme in the regulation of the water quality and wastewater quality, and in so doing the Department had over the years experienced some trends and patterns emerging, of which should be highlighted in the presentation.

The Portfolio Committee had received this information or the background of the programmes. Ultimately, after the assessments had been done the Blue Drop Green Drop programme would serve as a topographical view of the state of the systems for the wastewater and the portable water. It should be understood that individual municipalities were not assessed, but assessment was done on the systems that manages it. One of the key areas that were reflected on over the years was the release of the report, or in some cases, the lack of release of the report.

When Ms Molewa was the Minister of Water and Sanitation in 2012/13 she was of the view that the report should be taken to Cabinet, due to far-reaching implications for Local Government (LG). Subsequently, the Department had undertaken the view to release the report into the public domain. However, the report was firstly released to every municipality individually with the request that they revert with an improvement plan or turnaround plan to address the system of the wastewater treatment works and water treatment works. These were on-going engagements with the municipalities, as they would participate within the programmes and upload the required data and information, of which the Department would attend to. Focus was directed on the municipalities that performed poorly. Distinction could be made regarding which municipalities or metros would surpass the performance of others, due to greater capabilities or capacity. Thus, incapacitated municipalities or metros were targeted in such a manner that discussion was done with better performing municipalities to ascertain if they were willing to assist the improvement of the status of the poor performing local municipalities or metros, all of which were inclusive of the support of the Department. This was regarding the release of the Blue Drop Green Drop Report amongst the municipalities. Going forward the report would be released into the public domain, which would not necessitate application or legal steps because the document was available; in fact the document was uploaded onto the database of the Department. It was now necessary to reflect on how the programme would be maintained, especially as a world- class programme that had been benchmarked in other countries as well, like Japan for instance which hosted training for South Africans. This programme was such a critical programme for the Department that the approach undertaken was not the ‘stick approach’; instead a ‘stick-and-carrot approach’ was pursued to encourage municipal compliance.

The delegation of the DWS shall hone in specifically on the performance of 2014 and elaborate on the challenges. This information was technical, but the presentation shall be clarified for mutual understanding. However, after engagements of the presentations the Department would appreciate feedback from the Portfolio Committee regarding aspects that could be improved. Furthermore, how the Department could improve support to incapacitated municipalities would also be appreciated, because, ultimately, the mandate was the overall improvement of the quality of the living for South Africans regarding governmental service delivery.

Briefing by DWS
 
Ms Noxolo Ncapayi, Director: Drinking Water Regulation, DWS, presented the Blue Report Progress Report 2014. She referenced slide 4 and noted that challenges included having insufficient skilled process controllers to manage the water treatment plants and process the drinking water. Another challenge identified was the issue of monitoring; with respect to the inconsistencies and non-adherence to the monitoring programmes, as well as data uploading on the Blue Drop System. The issue of correct monitoring entails that Water Services Authorities (WSAs) register their monitoring programme on the Blue Drop System and if they fail to adhere to the stipulated monitoring programme the system will output that data had not been loaded, even though the data may have been loaded but done under an incorrect monitoring programme. Thirdly, it was discovered that WSAs were not always prepared for adverse incidents. Lack of infrastructure investment had also served as a key challenge.
 
The criterion used for the Blue Drop Assessment were Water and Safety Planning; Process Management and Control; Drinking Water quality verification; Management accountability and local regulation; Asset management, and Water use efficiency and loss management. The Water Safety Planning process entailed what was happening in the catchment and whether the treatment plant had the necessary capability to treat water and ensure quality, which primarily focused on risk management and dealt with incident management too. Process Management and Control addresses the skills of the plant that was necessary for its running. Drinking water quality verification entailed the standards that were safe enough for all citizens to have access to drinkable and good quality water. Management accountability and local regulation were about the commitment from management within the WSA. It had also included the issue of contractual management; when there were programmes for procurement processes it was expected of them to ensure that there were processes to source particular chemicals and the monitoring thereof. It entailed the submission of data and the payment of laboratories that conducted the analysis so that the laboratories could effectively upload the data. Asset management was like that of owning a car, because the maintenance of the car required service and at particular points parts of the vehicle would require replacing. This analogy was similar to the running of the treatment plants, because there was an asset register that should indicate when particular parts of it required service or replacing. Good asset management practices had proven to expand the lifespan of the equipment. This had also considered the issue of design capacity versus operational capacity; whereby some of the urban areas of the country were over-populated the design capacity of the water treatment plant was limited, despite the exceeding operational capacity that was unforeseen, which posed challenges. Water use efficiency and loss management was introduced in 2014 and entails knowledge of influx into the plant, such as the volume that were extracted, as well as knowing whether there was water loss in the system itself.
 
She then elaborated on the National Trends since its inception in 2009 up until 2014, showed a drop in the Blue Drop Score had occurred from 87.6% in 2012 to 79.6% in 2014. The number of WSA assessed remained constant, whilst the number of systems assessed increased from 931 in 2012 to 1036 in 2014. The number of systems that was awarded Blue Drops status was 44 in 2014, which was a decrease from 98 in 2012, and the major contributory factors to such decrease was the new criteria that was introduced called the North Drop as well as poor risk management practices in the WSA inclusive of non-adherence to the monitoring programs and the issue of data submission.
 
Ms Ncapayi then explained the Blue Drop (BD) score of the provincial performances in 2014. Gauteng achieved the highest score of 92%, but it was a decline from 98% in 2012. Nine systems achieved Blue Drop status compared to 16 in 2012. The Western Cape was the second best performer with a score of 89% in 2014, which was also a decrease from 94% in 2012. Eight of its systems had attained Blue Drop status. The BD score of Kwa- Zulu Natal had decreased from 92% in 2012 to 86% in 2014, and eight of its systems attained BD status. The BD score for Free State had declined by 7.2% from 82% in 2012 to 75% in 2014. Six of its water supply systems achieved the BD status. Eastern Cape had a BD score that declined by 10% from 82% in 2012 to 72% in 2014 and none of its systems achieved Blue Drop status. However, there were three systems that had improved. Mpumalanga experienced an increased in its score from 60.9% in 2012 to 69.9% in 2014, and nine of its systems attained BD status. Northern Cape had no changes with a score of 68% in 2014 with two of its supply systems attaining BD status. Only four of its systems were in critical risk category compared to 40 in low risk in 2012 and 38 was in the low- risk category compared to two in 2012. The BD score for North West substantially declined from 79% in 2012 to 63% in 2014 and had only system that attained BD status. Limpopo experienced a substantial decline from 79% in 2012 to 62% in 2014. One of its systems attained BD status compared to nine systems prior in 2012.
 
The 2014 Blue Drop Risk Rating (BDRR), slide 19, focused on water safety planning; skills required for such planning and water quality compliance. These were critical elements in terms of risk management, which the Department had believed that the WSA needed to take good strategic and operational decisions to improve service delivery or mitigate identified risks. The distribution of the number of systems per risk category improved compared to 2012, due to a reduction in the number of critical system from 234 systems to 26 systems. The number of systems in the high-risk category also decreased from 580 to 249. At the same time the number of systems in the low-risk category increased from 16 to 365, which was a great improvement for the WSA and indicative that they were applying the risk management approach required of them by DWS.
 
She concluded that the DWS had categorised the recommendations into short and long-term interventions. The short- term interventions recommended by DWS included the monitoring and data uploading to be prioritised; implementation of water safety planning; improvement of final water compliance, and the sourcing of relevant technical skills. The medium to long- term interventions for the WSA included focused attention on the operational capacity within treatment plants; a programme undertaking infrastructure asset management should be devised, and an enhancement of sourcing funding should be addressed. The way forward for the 2015 Blue Drop progress report currently entailed moderation of the assessments that were done. It was a progress report and not yet the full assessment, because of financial and capacity constraints that had prohibited the Department. However, the progress assessments entails water safety planning assessments, such as assessments of skills e.g. process controllers, drinking water management and the asset management. Regarding the 2016 Blue Drop Progress Assessment Tool (BD PAT) the training for assessors were done in December 2016. The team was also doing assessments in the Bellville office and the Draft Report was expected by end of October 2017.
 
Mr Solomon Makate, Acting Director: Wastewater Service Regulation, DWS, presented the Green Drop Progress Report. The programme was initiated in 2008, first Green Drop report published in 2009, and it was developed in such a way that the tools had both incentive- and risk-based regulation. It was first published in 2012, and the report currently under review pertained to 2014. The difference between the two was that the Green Drop audit focused solely on the entire system and took into account the collection from household water into the pump station until it had reached the water treatment works, and the output of that would be the Green Drop Report. Progress assessments takes place during the Green Drop ‘gap’ year, using the PAT to assess the cumulative risk status of treatment systems, and the output of that would be the Green Drop Progress Report. Audits were conducted for all of the 152 Water Services Authorities (WSA or municipalities) in the nine Provinces of South Africa. Assessment of 824 Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTW) was made, and Local Government owned it, ie. Municipal sector. Four privately owned WWTW were assessed, as well as the 13 WWTW of Kruger National Park that the Department of Environment Affairs had managed.
 
Mr Makate stated that the criterion for the Risk Based Regulation took into account four indicators, viz. Design Capacity; Operational Flow; Effluent Failure, and Technical Skills. The Design Capacity was assessed to decipher if the plant could handle the flow of water it received in terms of hydraulics. Operational Flow, thus, dealt with based on its design handle the amount of flow that had come into the plant. Effluent Failure focused on microbiological compliance, physical compliance and the chemical compliance. This entailed the pH; Electrical Conductivity; Suspended Solids; COD; Ammonia; Nitrates and Orthophosphate. The Technical Skills involved overall compliance, but the first indicators purely reviewed infrastructure.
 
The cumulative risk comparative analysis started with 98 audits in 2008 that were voluntary audits by municipalities. Thereafter scrutiny of section 62 of the Water Services Act, No. 108 of 1997, proved that all municipalities were to be audited by the Minister, and this compelled mandatory audits of all 156 municipalities countrywide up until 2013 when amalgamations amongst municipalities had reduced this to 152 and audits of that many had occurred since. The number of wastewater systems assessed in 2008 was 444, because it was voluntary, but in 2014 a total of 824 were assessed. The Average Cumulative Risk Ratings for overall criteria was at 13.4, which was a decrease from 12.2 in 2013. The other major concern was the Average Design Rating that stagnated from 1.4 in 2009 to 2014. The upgrades and refurbishments to the facility infrastructures should be understood that it was mighty projects and could not be completed in one financial year, which was why the design capacity remains the same. However, the new developments and the growing population shown an increase in the Average Capacity Exceedance Rating to 4.1 in 2014 from 3.6 in 2013. That ultimately affects the Average Effluent Failure Rating, because the plant cannot handle the inflow, due to the unprecedented load and so impedes on the compliance of the final water. The Average Technical Skills Rating together with the infrastructure development highlights the need to train the current Process Controllers at the plants. As the technology was improving, there was a need to improve on the skill set at the plants ensuring effective operation. The overall risk profile of wastewater treatment plants remained reasonably constant over the period 2008 to 2013. However, regress in the performance of municipal treatment facilities was evident for 2014. As earlier indicated, the lack of the incentive (non recognition of best performers due to non-release of the 2013 Green Drop Report) contributed to the regression. An example of delay was when laboratories were not timeously remunerated and subsequently withheld data or results. Another challenge was that results had indicated that, despite significant regulatory pressure, processes or evidence were still lacking in terms of in-flow and/or effluent quality monitoring, which was a challenge. It was as though driving a car without a speedometer, because there was none monitoring of inflow.
 
Mr Makate said that the majority of plants were in high risk with 259 plants and medium risk with 218 plants. The plants that regressed, in terms of performance, by taking up increased risk ratios will be placed under surveillance and continuously monitored on a quarterly- basis for implementation of corrective interventions and risk mitigation measures. He then noted the Provincial Best Performers (refer to slide 11) and highlighted the Low Risk WSA per Province only (refer to slides 13- 32). The Challenges faced by the DWS included that the 2015 Green Drop Assessments were not undertaken due to the lack of capacity. The delayed release of the Green Drop Report led to the lack of trust from the WSA plants and was an institutional risk. The challenges that faced the WSA included insufficient skilled process controllers; vacancies; data uploading on Green Drop System, because compliance would be misleading due to wrong monitoring; minimal maintenance of sewer pump stations, as well as the vandalism of infrastructure.
 
He concluded that the recommendations from the DWS included that the WSAs needed to prioritise implementation of a risk-based action plan that would start to identify and address the most critical risks pertaining to wastewater treatment performance; installation of meters for inflow measurement; undertake process audits to determine priority infrastructure interventions, and training and appointment of process controllers to meet minimum level of technical and supervisory expertise. Other recommendations included infrastructure asset management for optimal WWTW and pump stations performance; focused attention on sludge management; release of the Green Drop Report to encourage data submission (Individual municipality assessments to be released once the report was completed), and the exploration of opportunities for mutual partnerships with the private sector such as water stewardship e.g. Kumba Iron Ore and Tsantsabane LM (Northern Cape) initiative to cooperate and improve wastewater services. The arrangement was such that it was not financially supported by the DWS, but in areas that Kumba Iron Ore could assist they had, for instance the extraction of effluent water and analysing it at their laboratories, which would have ensured timeously submitted data and minimised costs for the municipality to have outsourced that function. Also, sometimes those companies could assist with maintenance, because they have had plumbers and mechanical personnel, as opposed to granting funds for that function as it may prove challenging to ascertain if the funds were spent as it was allocated. The way forward for the DWS regarding the Green Drop Progress Report entailed fast tracking the PSP appointment to undertake the 2015/2016 Green Drop Assessments, and the assembling of the internal team in DWS to conduct 2015 Green Drop Progress Assessment Tool (PAT) assessments.
 
Mr Singh noted that the presented progress reports gave a snapshot of the infrastructure of water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants. These were not new elements to the Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation, as it had an active role in unlocking much of these challenges and had played a role in assisting the North West Province to get commitment from the mining sector, in terms of a partnership or stewardship to ensure that the communities surrounding the mines had access to water.
 
Discussion
 
The Chairperson asked what the previous trend was before the 2014 progress report. Would the current set targets be achieved given the occurrences of the previous progress reports starting from 2009? Was the 2010 progress report submitted timeously and subsequent reports? This question was pre-empted by the challenges cited by DWS for 2014, such as the need for service providers and skill constraints.
 
Mr Singh answered that when the programme started in the early 2008/09 there was an upward trend and municipalities bought into the programme. Due to various factors, such as the non- release of the Blue Drop Green Drop Report, there had seemed to be a declining trend that evolved. The problem was not the report, because it was completed by the PSP and DWS, of which the results were given to individual municipalities before its release into the public domain. What had been the trend amongst all National Departments was that they were all the victims of budgetary cuts. If there was a cut in the budget National Treasury would give the Department less funds, which meant that these kinds of programmes would suffer in terms of rolling it out. Currently, there was a need to adapt the programme, which meant that if a full assessment was impractical a partial assessment was pursued. Therefore, an upward trend was not maintained and a decline occurred instead. Reversal of the decline was hoped by the reinvigoration of the programme with the renewed commitment of the municipalities. Even in the municipal sector there was competition for the resources of the municipality through the funding that they were allocated. Additionally, assessment of the WSA that were under-performing or in critical risk conditions proved that it required much more funding, because in many instances refurbishment was futile due to the need for complete replacement, which was quite an expensive exercise.
 
Ms Ncapayi added that there was an upward trend due to excitement, when the programme had first begun, in the water sector and amongst the municipalities. With the initial release of the reports the WSAs were anticipating that the Department would meet them on site to assess them. The anticipated incentive, should they have been compliant, played a major role. Thus, when in 2013 the Blue Drop Green Drop Report was not released on time it may have provoked a level of laxity in WSAs, which was compounded by the knowledge that due to financial constraints Water Affairs would not assess them. In so doing, WSAs forgot the key mandate that they had, which was to provide safe drinking water in terms of their constitutional mandate.
 
The Chairperson noted that it did not seem profitable to use the constraints of budget as an excuse, particularly because it contradicted some of the issues raised by the Department, for instance the issue of capacity. The issue of capacity can not be intertwined with budget constraints as though tallied together.
 
Ms H Kekana (ANC) thanked the Department for the presentation and wished the attendees a Happy New Year. She then noted that the presentation cited the timeline of 2009-2013 only, but it was now 2017. Regarding the Blue Drop progress report, what were the measures undertaken by the Department for the Provinces that under-performed as per the Provincial Blue Drop Score on page 9?
 
Mr L Basson (DA) echoed what the Chairperson had highlighted, because the two documents differed in reason, as the one document cited financial constraints and the other had cited procurement of suppliers. Over the years, R2 billion was returned to National Treasury (NT). It could therefore not possibly have been a problem with funding. The 2015/16 financial year alone showed R827 million reverted to NT, and this was besides the R187 million that was unused in the preceding financial year with wastewater treatment. Wastewater treatment had proven the biggest problem, because there were 824 plants that were receiving more than 500 million mega litres of sewage on a daily basis. With review of the figures merely 16% of the wastewater plants were in low-risk that means that either partially treated or untreated sewage were returned. In other words approximately 4200 mega litres of partially treated or untreated sewage were deposited into the water system, which comprised 82% of the rivers, all of which were crucial. Yet the lack of commitment seen from the DWS to ensure procurement on current happenings posed a concern. The question now going forward was what assurances were there that the Department would ensure commitment and doing so timeously? The Blue Drop Green Drop Report was the only report that the Portfolio Committee and South Africa received which indicated whether the Water Treatment plants and Wastewater Treatment plants were functioning.

Mr Basson believed that the plants that were assessed in 2013 had regressed, because after having personally done oversight on plants in December it was witnessed that those plants were not currently functioning, but the given progress report of 2013 did not enlist those particular plants as faulty then. For instance the wastewater treatment plant in Cradok was still not functional. The Chris Hani Municipality along with Cradok Wastewater Treatment plant were summoned to convene with the Portfolio Committee in 2015, and despite a submitted report as well as assurance of follow-up by the Department, no difference was effective since. Hence, it was important that an explicit commitment by the DWS be granted. Furthermore, the Auditor- General had red-flagged the fact that the Blue Drop and Green Drop progress reports were not done in 2015, but today it was cited that it was done, but it’s merely still being assessed before release. Even so, it was another year later and these plants had shifted annually from bad to worse. Pursuit of another method to have reliably assessed plants should be made, because it was unworkable to deliberate on the completion of the 2015/16 progress reports right now when it was already 2017. Lastly, regarding the Blue Scorpions in 2016 only 85 of the 177 posts were filled. Consequently, in some of the Provinces there were no Blue Scorpions to have monitored the rivers. At this stage last year, the report given by the Auditor- General had reflected that none of the officials were trained as environmental inspectors in terms of the National Environmental Act. Thus, had that situation changed?
 
Dr H Volmink (DA) thanked the Department for the progress reports. Regarding the Blue Drop progress report there were three main weaknesses cited, viz. skill deficits, commodity and the uploading of data. The uploading of data was an important issue, because one can not manage something that can not be measured. Thus, what were the incentives and/or consequences in cases where there was a lack of or poor quality data that was uploaded? Secondly, slide 20 showcases the risk ratings amongst the Provinces which has disconcerting trends, but the one Province that should be highlighted was North West, because 60% of its systems were in High and Critical Risk, which was really alarming. The given recommendations for change were general and generic. Thus, what remedial interventions were targeted specifically for the North West Province, because it was currently in a critical state? Regarding the Green Drop progress report- the cited lack of inflow- monitoring by many of the plants was a concern, because it was like driving a car without a speedometer, as the systems could easily become overwhelmed. There was a recommendation for the installation of inflow-meters on slide 34, but could a sense of how quickly it would be done be advised? It seemed like low- hanging fruit and yet if it were done many other issues would be resolved too. Was there confidence by DWS that the installation of inflow- monitoring meters would be done, and if so, by when would its installation be expected? Lastly, regarding the noted regression into the Critical Risk category by the Provinces of Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the North West Province that not only had high levels of Critical Risk plants, but over 50% regression from other categories, it was as though a car driving in reverse off a cliff. With relief slide 10 notes, “the plants that regressed by taking up increased risk ratios will be placed under surveillance and continuously monitored for implementation of corrective interventions and risk mitigation measures”, of which at first glance was a great statement, perhaps even the strongest in the entire presentation. However, thereafter resource constraints were cited as a limitation and yet there was controversy regarding the source of those constraints. Hence the statement seemed a bold assertion. Thus, how would the Portfolio Committee be assured that the Department would, indeed, accomplish that feat and ensure that there will be the necessary intervention?
 
Ms M Khawula (EFF) noted that the progress reports cited timelines of 2012-2014, in which eight Provinces had encountered decline of Blue Drop status. The concern was, therefore, had the decline of status impeded on the quality of living of the citizens?  
 
Inkosi R Cebekhulu (IFP) asked who was responsible for “whipping the crack” of the resources that had failed to ensure that the waste of sewer had gone straight to waterworks for cleaning up. This question was raised due to experience of lack of proper dealing with wastewater that had occurred in Kwazulu-Natal, in which livestock had died after the consumption of contaminated water, but no one ever took the responsibility of compensating the livestock owners in that area. This query also related to the earlier raised concern of policing officials to ensure that the rivers were clean, as even livestock was affected by its cleanliness or lack thereof.
 
The Chairperson admitted that he was taken aback having tried to ascertain comings and goings, because the municipalities would regulate water to the taps that the population would drink out of it, but maintenance of the regulation by the municipalities showed 10% which meant that much was promised but very little was done. Yesterday the issue of an integrated plan was raised, as some municipalities had recurring problems. It was agreed that since 259 plants had become High Risk the raised concern of maintenance was imperative, because although it was understood that the Department had supported as far as possible, it remained questionable whether a full commitment was guaranteed that had effected the required improvement. It seemed that the systems set in place were moving by themselves as though in autopilot mode. These systems were set in place some time ago and it seemed that its functioning was self- sustainable since due to its arrangement and the employees for it. Hence, the Members requested assurance of intervention by the DWS. An updated Blue Drop Green Drop Report that reflected the timeline of 2015-2017 shall mandate serious ‘catching-up’, and whether it was possible for a catch-up to 2017/18 was a concern. The raised issue of contaminated water may have also required a certain level of assurance of resolve by the Department, even though it would be an endeavour that was easier said than done.
 
Mr Singh thanked the Committee Members for the questions and comments. The Department shared the concerns raised, particularly the apprehension whether the DWS had made progress or was merely allowing regression to take place. It was earlier cited that when the programme was launched there was a great deal of excitement and commitment. However, during the previous ministry the decision was made that the release of the Blue Drop Green Drop report would be deferred until Cabinet had verified it, but since the Department had changed procedure it had been grappling with the following in its role as a regulator - regulators could either carry a ‘big stick’ or offer the ‘carrot’, in other words punishment or incentive could be given. The Department had opted for an incentive-based approach, of which it had contemplated that rewards would be awarded to deserving municipalities. However, as the programme had evolved it had now become necessary to reflect on the chosen approach and revise whether the ‘big stick’ approach would be utilised. Since the incentive-based approach had worked to a degree, but in some instances it was necessary to ‘crack the whip’ as the Members had highlighted.

Mr Singh said that the budget and capacity constraints cited were not intended as excuses. However, DWS had budgeted for the programme of the Blue Drop Green Drop according to its requirements for functioning, but the actual funds received were peripheral to the approval by National Treasury, which would further restrict in accordance to what Treasury could accommodate. It should also be understood that the majority of the budget was in the Infrastructure programme and that Regulation was allocated a smaller budget from which eight programmes were managed. The requested assurance of commitment from the Department towards the improvement of the risk categorization of the plants could be reiterated, but, essentially, the buy-in from Local Government was needed. As highlighted by the Committee the real issue was around wastewater, which was a critical matter that required review. The query about possible interventions done by the Department since 2009 until 2017 could be explained as follows; within some years full assessments were conducted, but other years partial assessments were done. After the report had been released to the individual municipalities the DWS would request an improvement plan of which the municipalities were held accountable for. The Department had a small team internally and so heavy reliance was placed on an external service provider to conduct this work, because it was of a technical nature, risky and a long process. Therefore, when the first draft of the report was completed an evaluation would follow, after which an assessment stipulating mistakes made and possible corrections would result. This process indicates the commitment from the Department; in fact the existence of the programme would suffice as evidence too. Otherwise the programme should be jettisoned and a new endeavour should be pursued. However, the Department needed to do introspection to decipher how the programme should be executed, which was why the appeal was made to the Committee, but the commitment for the improvement or way forward was already there and that commitment will be honoured. The composite report that shall account up until 2017 shall be brought to the Portfolio Committee. The Department beforehand responded to the question regarding Craddock and Chris Hani, but reflection shall be made to provide a follow-up a response if it remained unanswered. Regarding the Blue Scorpions, it should be clarified that there were a Compliance Monitoring Team; an Enforcement Team that had done the administrative action, and a Criminal Prosecution Team that dealt with NPA and SAPS. The latest number of officials trained was just below 20. An update of vacancies of the Blue Scorpions was that the Director post was filled at Head Office level, as the Head Office component was essential first. The Committee would appreciate that the Department conducted the monitoring of the filling of vacancies followed by the actual appointments, of which the capacity of the candidates was prioritised by DWS when appointing. Also, if the portable water quality was problematic it did, indeed, have a negative impact on the lives of the citizens, which was further motivation for the endurance of the programme so that mutual work with the municipalities for the improvement of drinking water could proceed. The DWS shared the concern of livestock dying due to the consumption of contaminated water, as a result the culprits of Kwazulu-Natal should be held into account for non- compliance.
 
Ms Lerato Mokoena, Chief Director: Water Service Regulations, DWS, elaborated on the intervention that DWS had done for poor performing municipalities. Once the Department allocated funding in the Accelerated Infrastructure Programme (ACIP) it dealt primarily with wastewater treatment works, particularly focusing on wastewater treatment works that were in a critical state, despite the limited funding that ACIP received. However, the DWS had refurbished wastewater treatment work plants that were municipal infrastructures up to National standard, but operational maintenance was the responsibility of the municipality it was located within, which had been neglected in many instances. Consequently, particular Wastewater Treatment Plants deteriorated after the refurbishment equating a loss of investment, because it was impossible for the DWS to revisit and refurbish the same plant over and over again, especially when there was a need to refurbish other infrastructures across the country too. It also meant that in two-three years the plants regressed to critical status due to the deterioration. The onus, therefore, lied with municipalities to maintain the infrastructure, as well as for them to appoint skilled personnel that could competently operate the plant, especially after the infrastructure had been refurbished. The lack of skilled personnel appointed by municipalities had negated efforts done by DWS. The Department had granted training through UNISA to the Process Controllers for the sake of upgrading of standard, which would ensure effective operation and maintenance of the water treatment works and the wastewater treatment works. The DWS also conducted quarterly monitoring, in addition to the regional quarterly monitoring of critical water treatment works and wastewater treatment works, which would result in letters being written to poor performing municipalities requesting compliance of them by means of submitting an Action Plan to DWS. Also, as the DDG had noted as regulators there was insufficient funding, however the infrastructure had available funds, but its allocation was limited.
 
Ms Ncapayi added that the challenge with data was that DWS would not personally operate the water treatment plants, but had relied on the WSAs to upload data on its system to clarify the happenings in each municipality regarding the quality of drinking water. The review of data in the system would show 97% microbiological compliance, due to the focus on it because of the constraints of capacity, since in the DWS national office there were only two technical employees who dealt with drinking water. Hence, capacity constraint was an issue. The DWS also worked closely with the provincial delegation, because they would submit the quarterly monitoring reports to the national office and be issued with compliance letters. Slide 20 of the Blue Drop progress report indicates the distribution of the number of systems per risk category (BDRR), and in it the North West Province reflects with 60% of its systems in the High and Critical risk categories. The Department had engagements with the respective municipalities to provide assistance. The key challenge was the lack of capacity to operate the plants as well as budget constraints. It was a matter of a chicken and egg issue. The Portfolio Committee could assist the Department with managing the process to ensure that the population or South African citizens were receiving good quality drinking water.
 
Mr Makate answered that installation of inflow-monitoring meters were highly dependant on municipalities to install such meters, which meant that a dead-line can not be committed to by the Department either. Also, regarding slide 10 of the Green Drop progress report that cites regulatory surveillance for poor performing plants, the monitoring was conducted as follows- the DWS worked with the Director Generals (DG) to monitor the wastewater treatment plants which involved reporting on a quarterly basis and this information influenced the annual targets of the Department as well.
 
Mr Singh reiterated that the Committee was fully aware of interventions done in the North West Province, as it was prioritised by the Committee during its oversight visits, for instance Madibeng Local Municipality. The last progress report by DWS had shown improvement for Kgetlengrivier Local Municipality. However, since then there had been critical focus in terms of overall improvement, which was why the appeal to the Committee for further focus areas was made. There had previously been focus on Ngara Modiri Molema District Municipality and Rustenburg Local Municipality, but the latest approach required review of what was accomplished and what was necessary in other parts of the North West province.
 
Ms Tamie Mpotulo, Chief Director, DWS, explained that the Department had the responsibility to support municipalities with the implementation of sanitation, which entailed wastewater treatment works. Over R5 billion was allocated to sanitation within the Department’s budget, and over 88% of it was spent on the upgrading and refurbishment of wastewater treatment plants. Thereafter the DWS had requested of the municipalities to submit an improvement plan and response was received by means of a technical report, which was assessed by DWS and then recommended for implementation accordingly. The DWS had done much, especially within the last year, as a list was constructed on where wastewater treatment works were most in need of refurbishment due to their technical reports, of which the municipality have had complete the refurbishment, but was monitored by the Department. Regarding the refurbishment and upgrades the Department was in the process of a District Municipality master plan, which would explicitly stipulate the situation of each wastewater treatment plant and the project proposed for implementation for its improvement. The Department could revert with records of what was accomplished and the required millions of Rand per plant to have it refurbished. Therefore, there was money available, which was specifically allocated for upgrades that was over R5 billion annually. However, it was the responsibility of the municipality to maintain and operate the refurbishment.
 
The Chairperson noted that since 2015 27 District Municipalities were referred to as ‘hotspots, what was the progress in this regard? Surely by now the number should have decreased from 27.
 
Ms Mpotulo answered that in 2014/15 four District Municipalities were addressed and in 2015/16 six District Municipalities were addressed bringing the total to ten that were dealt with.
 
The Chairperson asked what difference had the Department done?
 
Ms Mpotulo replied that the Department would go on site to decipher the District Municipality Master plan and assess the situation not only of water sanitation, but also of all basic water services, and projects that were required to provide infrastructure were considered. Thus, DWS first constructed Master Plans; next programmes of implementation would occur, and finally monitoring the municipalities would ensure follow-up. The balance of the ‘hotspot’ District Municipalities should be addressed by December 2017.
 
Mr Singh clarified that the question posed wanted to know if what the Department had done had incurred tangible improvement or not. He then answered that there was a report on the 27 District Municipalities, which was called the ‘municipalities under distress’, and it was presented before, but it could be retrieved from the archive then updated and re-submitted to the Committee by the end of the week.
 
Ms N Bilankulu (ANC) commented that the presentation did not seem relevant. The given responses seemed as though the delegation was referencing a report beyond the progress reports currently in deliberation. Uncertainty could derive from confusion between the statistics that reflect 2012, but it was 2017 and the delegation was aware of happenings in-between, but it was not indicated yet. Therefore, the DWS should revert with a presentation that was updated with currently relevant statistics.
 
Mr Basson agreed with the statement that if the Department assisted a municipality, it was impractical for the Department to revisit it to extend assistance again. Oversight had proven that there were municipalities that had received assistance from the Department, but six months later it would be back to square one. The problem was, therefore, that the Department should stop barking at the municipalities and start biting it instead. For instance, Eskom had begun threatening to stop the electrical flow to households that had accounts in arrears. If municipalities faltered to run their plants effectively their licences should be revoked and given to other Water Boards that were capable, even though it could initially be challenging. Another known problem was that some municipalities were polluting water downstream, of which neighbouring municipalities would spend unnecessarily exorbitant funds to clean the contamination when the water was extracted, but yet no punishment was afflicted to the polluting municipalities. Thus far, letters were written to the culprits and perhaps they were placed on terms, but nothing more was done to the municipalities that had polluted. Would it be possible that in 2017 if a municipality was non-compliant, it should be given 14 days to rectify the situation and if after then no correction was done, their licences should be revoked? Their licences could be given to a Water Board that could effectively run the plant, as means of emphasing that the DWS could ‘bite’ and not merely ‘bark’. If such measures could not be pursued or the DWS could not ‘bite’ this should be liaised to the Committee, because it was irrational to constantly spend money on wastewater and water treatment plants yet six months or so later the surrounding community would still be suffering, due to non-compliance by the polluting municipality that fails to ensure maintenance. As long as there was no adequate pressure on them, they shall neglect to escalate the standard. Experience proved that in 2012 Madibeng Local Municipality spent R12 million on their wastewater treatment plant, but today that plant was non-functional, despite being a new plant that was built. This resulted due to the lack of maintenance and operational capacity. It was, therefore, illogical to spend money on that particular plant again. Pressure on the municipality was necessary and if proven ineffective, the licence of Madibeng LM could be revoked and awarded to Magalies Water to run. If the municipalities did not learn to rectify their ways, because the Department was not harsh enough on them, they shall merely proceed with business as usual as though the non- compliance was normative. The Department should show in 2017 that it was capable of taking away the licences of wastewater treatment plants and water treatment plants of municipalities that perpetually erred, due to lack of capacity. Once those municipalities had proven to have ascertained capacity the Department should make a decision whether the plants should be returned to their management.
 
The Chairperson noted that the Department should indicate whether the matter of municipal capacity raised would be clarified now or at a later stage, inclusive of the matter of continued municipal management of the plants or redirection of its management to the Water entities. 
 
Ms Khawula agreed with fellow Committee Members that the Department was to revert with a single report, because the topic under discussion was the sensitive issue of water, but amongst the delegates there was confusion due to one claiming that there was insufficient budget and the other claiming that there was an adequate budget but the challenge was an issue of capacity. The delegation of the DWS should revert with one voice. Another request that was required was for the Portfolio Committee to take disciplinary action against the Department, because it seems that the delegation was taking the Committee Members for granted. 
 
The Chairperson sought clarity on the request made by the delegation for assistance by the Portfolio Committee to enable compliance by the municipalities.
 
Mr Singh clarified that the relationship with the Committee had been one that sought leadership and guidance. In the areas that the Department was failing the Committee would call DWS to order. The Portfolio Committee was a very active Committee and its presence was felt even amongst the communities due to oversight visits, which were appreciated by the communities, because it meant that the Portfolio Committee had not merely accepted that which the Department had presented at face-value. Oversight visits entailed personal verification, as in Madibeng for instance. The problem was that after the Department had assisted a plant or municipality, it was then necessary to move on to another, because there were approximately 800+ plants that still required attention. Rightfully so, if a municipality was undertaking a refurbishment it was imperative of it to appoint skilled people to do so, because it was nonsensical to discover later and after several million Rands had been spent the plant was not up to standard due to initial incompetence. This was unacceptable and the DWS will address this error in terms of enforcement. It was agreed that if there were a degree of confusion concerning the report it would be cleared with the finalisation and release of the Blue Drop Green Drop Report. Thus, the Department shall revert with a revised report that was more updated with statistics up to 2017. Regarding the issue of taking enforcement action or ‘biting’ municipalities- this Committee had joint meetings with other Committees to review a political stance that could address the applicable legislation, municipal systems and structures in terms of criterion for awarding municipalities status of water service authority or water service providers. This issue had been grappling with the Minister of Water and Sanitation to decipher if there could be an assignment to transfer the function from COGTA to the DWS, which will then empower the Minister to take control over the whole Value Chain. Currently, the Minister was disempowered, because there were dealings of water in the bulk space; protection of the resource; norms and standards, and other regulatory patterns, but the service mandate lied within COGTA and Local Government. Therefore, the DWS would not mind taking the management of plants away from certain municipalities due to poor performing plants, but ultimately there were legal challenges. However, the Department should consider the possibility of imposing such, because it was correct that there were repeated failures and it was unacceptable that the DWS would sit aback and accept that the citizens were denied quality services. One manner that was legally possible to impart change would be to revoke the licences. This would be achieved by a review of non-compliance to the licensing conditions, put the municipality on terms and then revoke their licence accordingly. This method shall be considered upon focus of municipalities that had erred after which the capacity of Water Boards would be considered. Another challenge was that municipalities had owed the Water Boards millions of Rands, which also served as a challenge for the Department. The DWS shall revert with a concerted turnaround strategy on how it would deal with problems that had persisted, such as Madibeng LM for instance, after which the political support of the Portfolio Committee shall be sought to push for the necessary interventions. On another matter, the spoken disciplinary action taken against the DWS officials for lack of revised report or consolidated report shall be accepted, as it was a firm stand cited and where there were non- compliance or lack of commitment the particular officials should be sanctioned. The Department will work hard together with the Portfolio Committee going forward, but the commitment was already there. How it would be achieved was contingent to the support of the political leadership and the Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation. The cited concerns and comments had been noted and shall be reflected upon, after which the DWS would appreciate the opportunity to revert later in the year with a revised report stipulating concrete steps desired to be taken. The Committee was a leadership role that the Department appealed to for consent when presenting an approach before its implementation, as means of support for some changes that required testing, for instances the revocation of the licences. This was done before, but it may need to be done more often so that it could have a deterrent effect. These were the kinds of matters that would be reverted with, inclusive of the latest developments.
 
Mr Basson asked if the Committee could receive a timeframe on the issue of revoking the licences. It shall be ineffective to receive such information later in the year, because there would be lost of time in which action could have taken place.
 
Dr Volmink added that if there would be revocation of licensing who would be in the capacity to deliver the service?
 
Mr Singh answered that the present delegation shall revert to office today, work on an action plan until the end of February and presented to the political leadership and Portfolio Committee by March should the scheduling of Parliament allow. The delegation will be back in March to present the Annual Reports on the Water Boards then. Therefore, around about the third week of March to cite a timeframe should be appropriate.
 
The Chairperson noted that perhaps this issue would allow review of the capacity of the municipalities, viz. the 10% expectation of each municipal budget for maintenance and implementation of such that had become very critical in response to a number of questions rose. What was seen and heard by the Committee was that there was no or little compliance to that expectation.
 
Ms Kekana reiterated that the Department should work hard on the assurances given.
 
The Chairperson concluded that the Portfolio Committee accepted that the DWS would have the timeframes ready by the end of February 2017. This was also a matter that resided within political principals and was quite an urgent matter. The fact that the municipalities were not moving or improving their categories highlighted an issue of compliance, which should result in consequences.
 
Other Committee Dealings
 
The Chairperson noted that the Portfolio Committee was expected to undertake an oversight visit next week.
 
The Lesotho Highland Water Project shall form part of the oversight visit within the third week of March, as the lawmakers were currently not yet in their Parliament.
 
One of the issues deliberated in the Committee was the old 1956 Water Act and the repealing rights associated with such. Whilst the DWS noted that that legislation had been repealed altogether the reality was in practice that those repealing was still on. The small-scale farmers in the Mpumalanga area were experiencing problems. For example there was a case that was brought to the Committee of a farmer who had bought land under the Land Reform Programme, but the farm did not have water and its access had been withheld by the previous owner of the farm.
 
Also, in two weeks time, after the SONA the Committee will have two meetings relating to this - the Department will brief the Committee on the relevance of SONA insofar its work was concerned and an Economist, shall unpack the economical aspect of water and sanitation out of the SONA.
 
The aforementioned programmes shall be adopted next week, since they were drafts.
 
The meeting was adjourned.  

 

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