Documents/The Efficient Society/Environment and Energy/
Water Crisis 2008
At a glance
The Democratic Alliance regards the delivery of good quality water to all households, not only as a constitutional mandate but also as a moral duty to all South Africans.
The DA has various proposals to address this problem, including:
In urban areas:
The DWAF should be empowered to fine and prosecute municipalities that fail to maintain their water and sewerage systems.
Establish a national task team within DWAF to work with the 100 municipalities where the water quality management is at its worst.
Implement a clear career progression plan and opportunities for staff to improve their skills.
Establish a hotline number where victims of poor water quality can highlight their problems before they become a crisis.
Amend legislation to require local councils to take ecological constraints into account before initiating or extending water delivery services.
In rural areas:
Initiate a process which involves all farmers, developers, industries and local councils in the holistic management of water.
Review all legislation pertaining to the management of our water resources and ensure that all aspects of the law are compatible.
Where water reserves have been dangerously contaminated, an effective action plan needs to be implemented to deal with the problem, rather than high-level denials by officials.
Documents to Download
- Storm Warning_document.pdf (119 kb)
STORM WARNING: A LOOMING WATER CRISIS AND THE DA’S PLAN TO ADDRESS IT
Many South Africans can no longer rely on the quality of the water that is delivered to their homes because of comprehensive neglect at several different levels. If we are to avoid a similar crisis to that facing Eskom right now, we need to urgently take some long-term preventive steps to protect our water supplies.
The Wonderfonteinspruit catchment area is a particularly clear example of how bureaucratic neglect and unfettered industrial activity are polluting our water at its source. Last year, the Brenk Report showed how sediments within the water at the Wonderfonteinspruit had been contaminated by potentially dangerous chemicals as a result of several decades of acid mine drainage.
This example is part of a generalized official disregard for the environmental consequences of industrial and agricultural activity.
The problems are exacerbated by shortcomings in the management of our dams, which reduce the supply of water we have available and also affects its quality. According to a reply given by Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Lindiwe Hendricks in July last year, only 160 of the 294 dams owned and managed by her department comply with modern safety standards.
As the quality of the water from our water sources deteriorates, it becomes more complex and more expensive to purify this water to make it safe for drinking. For example, the City of Cape Town is spending R400 000 a month more than it should on treating water from the Voelvlei dam alone because of the high level of pollutants in the water.
To compound this problem, the water treatment plants themselves and the pipes that deliver clean water are old and dilapidated. But few councils are doing anything more than band-aid maintenance.
A further complication is that councils have been under enormous pressure to expand water and sewerage infrastructure to service previously under-serviced areas. This has added to the burden on existing infrastructure. In 2003 the DWAF warned about the consequences of rolling out new water projects without setting aside enough money to maintain the existing facilities. But the political pressure to deliver has often caused this problem to be ignored.
The DA has various proposals to address this problem, which we have separated into rural and urban solutions.
In urban areas:
The DWAF is empowered to fine or prosecute municipalities that fail to maintain their water and sewerage systems adequately. It has hardly ever done so. It needs to adopt a zero tolerance approach towards non-compliant councils.
A national task team needs to be established within the DWAF to work with the 100 municipalities where water quality management is at its worst.
The main problem with South Africa’s water infrastructure is not lack of money but poor operation. DWAF, in conjunction with municipalities, must therefore develop clear career progression paths for staff and a range of in-house training modules to give staff the opportunity to upgrade their skills.
Municipalities need to learn from those which have overcome their problems. A survey of success stories needs to be conducted and compiled into a best practices guide to assist municipalities that are still struggling.
The victims of poor water quality are the ordinary people. We propose a national hotline to give people the opportunity to highlight problems before they turn into a national crisis.
Local Water Services Development Plans do not take sufficient account of existing water resource management principles. We need to amend legislation to require local councils to take ecological constraints into account before initiating or extending water delivery services.
Co-operative governance is proving to be an ineffective tool in protecting the environment against the negative impacts of human activity, and legislation and policies at different levels sometimes contradict each other. Clearer legislative boundaries need to set, and ideally much more involvement from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is required in adjudicating over environmental decisions.
Finally, as a result of the country's apartheid past, there is little culture in South Africa of participation in government processes relating to the environment. While the government cannot compel people to be more involved in decisions that will affect them, it can certainly make it easier for opinions to be heard and it can create more effective avenues through which the public can express their opinions.
In terms of rural solutions, we propose the following:
Firstly, in order to make all the parties whose actions affect water quality involved in preserving it, a process needs to be initiated to involve all farmers, developers, industries and local councils in the holistic management of water.
The premier international example is the Catskill-Delaware Water Management System, which delivers 4.5 billion litres of water from the Catskill-Delaware watershed system to nine million people in New York every day. The water is of such pristine quality that it does not require filtration, but the water is delivered at one eighth of the cost of a filtration system. The government needs to consider adapting the principles applied in this project to our own circumstances.
Secondly, many of the reserves where our water originates are fragmented and are poorly managed from a water retention point of view. A process needs to be started to review all the legislation pertaining to the management of our water resources and ensure that all aspects of the law are compatible, and to proclaim and properly manage these areas.
Finally, areas which are important reserves for water and which have been dangerously contaminated – the Wonderfonteinspruit is a key example of this - need to be tackled through specific action plans rather than high-level denial. The DWAF needs to keep on top of problem areas and ensure that local councils or provinces respond appropriately.