Water Quality and Water Challenges: Public Hearings

Water and Sanitation

03 June 2008
Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee had invited several municipalities to address the question of water quality and water challenges. It was noted that some municipalities had no system in place to monitor water quality. This painted a bleak picture about service provision. In addition the issue of qualified staff arose in each of the presentations. Often the failures in the water tests were ascribed to the fact that skilled people did not conduct the testing. The Committee agreed there was need to address skills competence in municipalities. The issue of debt collection was raised, with most municipalities having plans in place, and Members also addressed whether each of the municipalities was paying the Water Board.  Most municipalities seemed to be dealing with the problem of old infrastructure which posed risks to service delivery. All municipalities said that they were running community awareness programs that educated the public on water safety. Pollution was the major factor posing risks to water safety. It was explained that the Department of Water Affairs was in some cases assisting with sanitation issues, and in other cases with obtaining skilled staff.

Meeting report


Water quality and water challenges: Public hearings
The Chairperson noted that various municipalities and departments had been invited to the public hearings to make presentations on water quality, particularly that of drinking water. She added that the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) was obliged to notify the Committee of the municipalities that were not complying with the regulations on testing and standards. municipalities that did not attend the public hearings would be dealt with according to the provisions of the Constitution.

Presentation by uMhlathuze Municipality 
Mr Frik Bosman, City Engineer, uMhlathuze Municipality, gave an overview of the structure of water service management and the water supply system. He tabled the general characteristics of water treatment facilities. uMhlathuze Municipality outsourced water services associated with sewage treatment through a public tender procurement process.

Mr Sabelo Hlela, Deputy City Engineer, uMhlathuze,  said water quality management in the municipality was compliant with regulations and legislation. He also said the Municipality had water awareness programmes to educate people about the risks associated with drinking contaminated water. Mr Hlela said the municipality made monthly reports to DWAF. In addition, he said water quality skills were compliant with accredited skills to ensure safe water supply.

Mr Bosman briefed the Committee on the purpose and background of the city municipality’s activities and tabled the Water Quality Monitoring Summary (WQMS) Report, which showed the water bacteriological content in various areas under the municipality’s jurisdiction. He said that sampling errors and failures were reflected in the WQMS Report.

Mr J Combrinck (ANC) said the report was detailed and asked if the type of information found in the report reached other municipalities as that would help them improve water quality.

Mr Bosman said that the information was stored in a database and anyone who wanted to use it could have access.

Mr Combrinck asked who was the biggest polluter in the areas under uMhlathuze Municipality.

Mr Bosman responded that there were no specific organisations that could be identified as the biggest polluters.

Mr Combrinck asked how debt collection was carried out, noting that the municipality had a 100% debt recovery record.

Mr Hlela said that the municipality also sold electricity and that some of the funds from that were used to top up water debts.

Mr Combrinck asked what was done to ensure that pipelines were in a good condition, and asked if there was a possibility of installing new pipelines.

Mr Bosman said the municipality was busy with a pipe replacement programme.

Mr J Arendse (ANC) asked if the Richards Bay laboratory that was waiting for accreditation would be closer to the municipality and if that would help in improving water quality.

Mr Bosman said that the municipality was currently using the laboratory in Durban and that the Richard’s Bay laboratory would help in monitoring water for consumption and swimming.

Mr Arendse asked if the municipality was getting any assistance from DWAF, and if there was any way that the Department could help further.

Mr Arendse said the municipality got assistance from DWAF as they interacted on a regular basis.

Mr Arendse asked what was being done with regard to contaminated boreholes.

Mr Hlela said the Municipality had banned the use of contaminated boreholes and that it tried to educate communities, especially rural communities, about the dangers of using contaminated water even for agricultural purposes.

Mr Arendse noted the 1% failure rate in the tests and asked what the cause of that was.

Mr Hlela said that the Municipality used borehole water for their tests, adding that some of the boreholes they tested were sealed and that it had been recommended that the water should not be used for consumption.

Mr M Swathe (DA) noted that there was a need to add more chlorine during water treatment and asked if that posed no danger to consumers.

Mr Bosman said that the Municipality would, after additions, conduct re-sampling testing to ensure water safety.

Mr P Ditshetelo (UCDP) asked how the municipality dealt with sparsely populated areas.

Mr Hlela said long pipelines were used to distribute water to those areas.

M K Moonsamy (ANC) asked what form of publicity was used for the campaign against the use of contaminated water.

Mr Hlela said the municipality had a number of education programmes to deal with that and said also that communities were educated on safe waste disposal methods.

Ms S Maine (ANC) asked if water services officials regularly attended ward meetings or only if they had problems.

Mr Hlela said that officials were sent out for ward meetings in which it was indicated that communities had problems.

Ms C September (ANC) asked who was used in outsourcing.

Mr Bosman said that Water Sanitation Services South Africa had been involved for a long time.

Presentation Of Nkomazi Municipality
Mr Thokojeni Siboja, Technical Manager, Nkomazi Municipality, briefed the Committee on water services and quality as well as the institutional arrangements. He mentioned the water service development goals, which included eradication of backlogs in water services and sanitation. He said these were important for sustainable service provision.

In addition, Mr Siboza gave an outline of water service protection and water conservation, as well as water demand management. He said that water services were differentiated according to regional settings, socio economic profiles and employment service level profile.  He said the municipality aimed to provide yard connections to all customers and to increase sanitation services. Mr Siboza said there was need to launch a comprehensive water loss management plan to deal with the issue of future water sources. The municipality had a water service infrastructure profile, as it had old infrastructure. He gave the water service institutional profile as well as the financial profile of the municipality, stating the capital investment in water, sanitation and water services budget. Mr Siboza said the municipality was limited by insufficient resources, thus the water services were relatively poor.

The municipality needed resources to provide water quality assessment functions, in order to ensure that the water provided was fit for human consumption. He noted that the municipality had no laboratory, and so DWAF had appointed a service provider to monitor water quality. He stated that pollution contingency measures were in place to deal with sources of pollution, and detailed how pollution would be addressed. 

Mr Combrinck (ANC) asked clean the water was in the municipality.

Mr Siboza said that the cleanliness varied according to the feedback the municipality got from DWAF. He added that DWAF recommended changes to be made and that five service providers were contracted to clean the water.

Mr Combrinck asked why water from reservoirs was used for samples instead of tap water being used.

Mr Siboza responded that the use of those samples had to be understood in the context of communities, who used reservoirs as their main water sources.

Mr Arendse asked how boreholes were monitored.

Mr Siboza said the municipality had attempted to analyse the situation. He added that a report reflecting the status of borehole water had been submitted and communities were advised not to use borehole water for human consumption.

Mr Swathe asked why the run off water from agriculture was not being analysed, adding that it could be polluted.

Mr Siboza said that was not a problem as Nkomazi was dry, and farmers struggled with water and thus they could not afford to have run off water.

Mr Swathe asked what was being done in relation to sanitation services.

Mr Siboza said a sanitation plan had been completed as the previous plan had not been good enough. He said a report was presented to the Provincial Cabinet and DWAF, leading to steps being taken to address the sanitation problem.

Mr M Sibuyana (IFP) said that Nkomazi did not have water, like most rural communities. He asked if failure to deliver water services was due to shortage of skills and what the Department had in mind in relation to skills formation.

Mr Siboza said skills shortage was a national problem and that the municipality relied on assistance from DWAF. He said that they had placed an advert for a Water Control Manager who would monitor water quality every day, as opposed to the service provider who did it once a week.

Ms E Lishivha (ANC) asked how the municipality helped communities to build boreholes and supply them with water of drinkable quality.

Mr Siboza said community members were advised to notify the municipality in writing if they wanted a borehole. He said the municipality would investigate and if permission was given, then whoever wanted a borehole paid consultants to help set it up.

The Chairperson said there was no mention of community information dissemination. She asked how the municipality dealt with community development people.

Mr Siboza said that community development workers dealt with Councillors and development workers.

Mr Sibuyana asked how many service providers were contracted in the vast municipal area.

Mr Siboza said the municipality had contracted five service providers for overall monitoring of their water systems.

Presentation by Buffalo City Municipality
Mr Graham Cowey, General Manager, Buffalo City Water and Sanitation, made a presentation dealing with the manner in which water quality issues were addressed in the Water Service Development Plan (WSDP). He outlined the profiles of household level and service sanitation. Mr Cowley stated the objectives and strategies in terms of service levels for residential consumers. He said all rural households were to be provided with basic water supply by the end of 2008.

Challenges were mainly operational budgets, human resources and old infrastructure, vandalism and theft. The municipality also had Eskom load shedding as a problem as it stopped the sewage water pump, and that led to spillages.

Mr Cowley said the Municipality had a public awareness programme to educate communities about the use of contaminated water. In addition the municipality submitted monthly reports to DWAF on the progress they had made with regards to water services.

Mr Combrinck asked how clean the water in Buffalo City was.

Mr Cowley said that the water was 85% clean and that the municipality wanted to have it at least over 90% percent clean in the next two years.

Mr Combrinck asked what was the relationship between Buffalo City Municipality and DWAF.

Mr Luntu Bobo, Councillor for Engineering Services, Buffalo City said the relationship was good, and that DWAF had appointed consultants to look after their treatment plants.

Mr Combrinck asked what kind of staff the municipality had, whether newly graduated, experienced or unskilled staff.

Mr Bobo said the municipality had a lot of experienced staff with long years of service. He said the main challenge lay in replacing them, as most of them were in their late fifties and early sixties. Mr Booby said the municipality planned to replace them by way of a programme that was training students.

Mr Combrinck asked who was the biggest polluter in the area.

Mr Cowley said the biggest polluter was Candy Tops, a sweet manufacturing company whose overflow from industry flowed into water sources.

Mr Combrinck asked how old the water pipes were.

Mr Cowley said the water pipes were very old, some from the 1940s, as well as one dating back to 1818 in Williamstown.

Mr Sibuyana said the municipality had stated its objectives in its presentation, instead of what it had achieved. He wanted to know what had been done in the last year.

Mr Cowley said the municipality had achieved pipeline installations, and sewage plants in some areas had been upgraded. 

Mr Sibuyana noted the failures in some of the municipality’s programmes and wanted to know what was the reason for the failure in tests.

Mr Bobo said that the problem could be lack of skilled workers as the municipality had been losing a lot of experienced staff lately. He added that the failures could also be ascribed to operators not doing their jobs properly, or ignorance of samples. Mr Bobo added that the municipality  had resolved to have shadow tests by a private company to check what the reasons for failure could be.

Mr Sibuyana asked what were the reason for the municipality’s failure to pay the Water Board.

Mr Cowley said the Water Board was paid according to service agreements and that there was need for engagement in cases of unpaid bills.

Mr Sibuyana asked what was done in relation to debt collection in rural areas.

Mr Bobo said there had been a resolution to collect all the money owed to the municipality, but that rural communities were not being charged at present.

Ms S Maine (ANC) asked what was being done about pipelines and wanted to know if they were included in the budget.

Mr Bobo said the municipality had a R25 million pipelines planned and that it was going to be constructed in conjunction with private developers.

The Chairperson asked how the challenge of the people factor was dealt with.

Mr Bobo said that the municipality would proactively send people to inform about what was being done at the various stages to solve any water service problems that might arise.
The Chairperson suggested that the municipality should follow normal procedures in case of non payment. She added that community development workers and Councillors had to educate the public in that regard.

South African Water Caucus & Ecocare Trust Briefing
Ms Farieda Khan, a representative from the civil society organisations, made a presentation that focused on water quality, pollution of water sources and consequences. She said that mine companies were some of the worst polluters, and so were the timber plantations. She said that timber plantations used pesticides that were carried into water sources, resulting in extinction of fish species. She said that there was a need to find out which consultants conducted environmental impact assessments, as some were unrealistic.

Mr Moonsamy asked what could be done about corporations that polluted the environment. He suggested that the Committee should go on an oversight visit to areas at risk from pollution, to check the extent of pollution.

Mr Arendse asked if organisations noticed how corporations used loopholes in legislation to get away with violations.

Ms Khan responded by saying that legislation was not effective against mines. She suggested that the agricultural and mining sectors had to be assessed and questioned about the sustainability of their industries and the risks associated with them.

Mr Combrinck  suggested that the Department of Minerals and Energy should be questioned about why it gave licences to polluters.

Presentation by Ukahlamba Municipality
Ms Fiona Sephton, Director of Community Services and Planning, Ukahlamba Municipality, said that water quality was addressed in the Water Service Development Plan (WSDP), which was new, as the previous plan had not been sufficient. She outlined the strategies to address water quality challenges. She said the municipality planned to eliminate informal settlements by 2014 and that all rural households had to be provided with water connections by 2010.

Ms Sephton said the municipality had awareness programs focusing on water quality issues. The Sanitation Resource Centre educated rural communities on health and hygiene issues. She said the municipality had a monthly water quality report that fluctuated, as well as consistent monthly collection of samples and reports to DWAF. Abnormalities in the water quality were due to presence of E.coli and the municipality needed technical and scientific skills to purify water. Ms Sephton said the municipality was challenged by a skills gap and a large staff turn over.

Mr Arendse asked if consultants were not used to fill in for the shortage of staff.

Mr Robert Fortuin, Director of Technical Services, Ukahlamba Municipality, said consultants were used but they had the tendency to demand money when they had not delivered.

Mr Arendse asked how old the equipment was and what was being done about its maintenance.

Mr Fortuin said the infrastructure was collapsing and that no funds were put aside to replace it.

Mr Arendse asked what was the reason for the fluctuating water quality. .

Mr Fortuin said tests were conducted and failures are found throughout, due to poor sanitation and a mix up of sources in sample collection.

Mr Arendse asked what determined chlorination.

Mr Fortuin said that it was due to unsupervised staff who did not do what they were supposed to do. He added that the mayoral council was considering appointment of a water board to ensure quality water services.

Mr Moonsamy said that responsibilities had to be met and DWAF had to make a plan to obtain skilled personnel, without which the challenges could not be met.

Mr Fortuin said the municipality had short courses for its staff.

Mr Moonsamy asked how many members of staff had been trained.

Mr Fortuin said the Municipality had trained twenty staff members.

Mr Combrinck asked how debt was collected.

Mr Fortuin said there had been a study from October 2007 to February 2008, which had focused on debt collection. He said that the issue differed from one municipal area to another.

Mr Combrinck asked if payment was made to the Water Board.

Mr Fortuin said payments to the Water Board had not been made, for good reason. He said there were some irregularities found after an internal audit of the water board.

 Mr Combrinck asked who conducted the short courses.

Mr Fortuin said that those staff members who had been in their jobs for a long time conducted them, and that it was a hands-on training approach.

Mr Combrinck asked if the municipality engaged the public in improvement of water quality and advised then that use of indigenous knowledge could be beneficial. .

Mr Fortuin said three years ago a community project was started in Elundeni. A consultant designed a scheme that was built by the community and that lead to the community winning a award.

The Chairperson said the Committee wanted to see a progress report of the recovery plan put up for Ukahlamba.

The meeting was adjourned.


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