The deteriorating (and possibly life threatening) quality of the water of the Vaal River system including the Vaal Dam has reached crisis proportions.  Key areas of concern are pollution from waste water works which is creating a health risk and destroying the environment and Acid Mine Drainage (AMD).   Pollution from these and other sources such as mining and industry are SAVE’s prime concerns.  

The Vaal River has become a dumping ground for toxic effluent from industry, mining and municipal waste water works. Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is a reality and a further threat to the sensitive ecological environment of the Vaal River.  SAVE’s focus area is the part of the Vaal River wherethe aquatic ecosystem is most compromised and where the greatest human health risks risk is posed.

Comment on National Water Resource Strategy 2 issued by the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs

The National Water Resource Strategy 2 (NWRS2) document published by The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs clearly identifies the many threats to our deteriorating and diminishing water resources but offers no realistic solutions nor practical strategy to deal with the threats to communities, health, the environment and the economy.

A statement of intent expressed in lofty terms is no solution to the current crisis.

A recurring theme throughout NWRS2 is the poor state of sanitation services countrywide. They are non-existent in many areas and where waste water treatment works exist, most cannot cope with demand. As a generalisation, the failure of wastewater treatment works is attributable to inadequate funding, poor maintenance and management and a lack of priority given to the problem by the responsible municipalities.

Faecal contamination and putrification of water resources is a particular and acute problem in the Vaal River catchment. NWRS2 provides no immediate solution and no clear measures to address these problems. To the contrary, SAVE observes with great concern, what seems to be a shift of responsibility from national government down to local government, or at least a distancing of national government from the failings of municipalities in certain key areas, namely:

  1. The development and financing of water resources infrastructure.
  2. Placing responsibility for water conservation measures and demand management interventions solely in the hands of municipalities.
  3. The collection of water user charges;
  4. The efficient and effective operation of wastewater treatment works.

It is noted with some concern that NWRS2 states in paragraph 16.1.5:

“Due to the centrality of water to life and local government service delivery imperatives, it is likely that most government policies and legislation would directly or indirectly have an impact on water resources management and, consequently, water services provision. Sanitation as part of water services, in general, falls within this category. The challenge with sanitation is that it is a competence of another Department (Human Settlements) at a national level and a local government responsibility in terms of implementation, but it has significant implications for water management”.

The inability of municipalities to deal with wastewater efficiently and in compliance with the law is not considered when housing developments are approved on the banks of the Vaal River. In pursuit of rates income, unacceptable environmental compromises are made. This approach should not be permitted by the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs

No new developments should be permitted unless the Municipality concernedis able to demonstrate the ability to accommodate the additional wastewater to be generated, or if private wastewater treatment plants are to be licenced, that the Municipality has the capacity to monitor such facilities properly.

Completely ignored in provision of water resources infrastructure (and the wastewater treatment facilities that are an integral part thereof) is the reality of burgeoning informal settlements. It might not be within the purview of the National Department to control informal settlements, but it is the responsibility of that Ministry to provide access of everyone to sufficient water, irrespective of whether they live in formal or informal settlement. With this obligation, is the concomitant obligation to deal with the wastewater that is inevitably generated.