Govt assesses state of wastewater treatment plants

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Department of Water and Sanitation says it has begun assessing wastewater treatment plants in several municipalities across the country.

This follows the recent relaunch of the Blue and Green Drop Certification Programmes, which advocate for excellent drinking water and wastewater quality management. 

The department on Tuesday said the assessments are mainly for the Green Drop Certification Programme, which is aimed at ensuring that municipalities improve their maintenance and management of wastewater infrastructure. 

The Green Drop assessments will be conducted at 963 wastewater systems and will be finalised by February 2022. 

“What we look for during these assessments are effluent and sludge quality compliance; the environmental, technical management, financial provision for operations and maintenance of the infrastructure, among other things,” said the department’s acting Chief Director Siboniso Mkhaliphi. 

Mkhaliphi said to assess the maintenance capacity of wastewater systems, Water Services Institutions (WSIs) are required to provide evidence of a maintenance team used for general maintenance work at the plant and pump stations. They are also required to provide evidence of proof of competency of the team. 

“The reason for this is that the lifespan of the infrastructure partly depends on professionals who know what they are doing when carrying out operations and maintenance. Most importantly, the department has financially supported many WSIs in refurbishing wastewater treatment plants,” Mkhaliphi said. 

Mkhaliphi said at times, the infrastructure funded by the department often collapses due to poor operations and maintenance. 

“So these assessments are also meant to protect the taxpayer’s money,” he said.  

Ineffective maintenance often results in sewer blockages, which has dire negative health effects for residents and the environment.  

While admitting that the main source of pollution in communities comes from wastewater treatment works (WWTWs) due to sewer blockages, poor operations and maintenance as well as those operating above design capacity, Mkhaliphi sent a stern warning to residents who also contribute to the malfunctioning of such infrastructure. 

“There are people who still flush foreign objects such as newspapers, disposable nappies and sanitary towels. 

“These may not block your drain in your household, but they impact negatively on wastewater treatment works and when the infrastructure fails, it is the same communities that cry foul. 

“As a department, we encourage municipalities to strengthen their bylaws because we do not enforce the bylaws. However, we will not hesitate to take steps against municipalities to ensure such environmental crimes are accounted for,” he said. 

Mkhaliphi said the other main source of pollution is from mining operations resulting in problems of acid mine drainage, especially in mining provinces. 

The last Green Drop and Blue Drop reports were published in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The department is presently undertaking a full Green Drop audit and Blue Drop partial assessment in 2021. 

A full Blue Drop audit and a Green Drop partial assessment will only happen in 2022. 

Green Drop Certification is awarded to wastewater systems that obtain scores of 90% when compared against the criteria set for wastewater management. 

This mainly assists Water Services Authorities to strive for improvement in their management of wastewater as part of the incentive-based regulation approach. 

The department uses its regulatory and support arms to identify challenges and address them as early as practically possible, ideally before any emergency situation. The role of the Blue and Green Drops are key in this process. 

“We call on residents to play their part and stop flushing objects which shouldn’t be flushed down the drains. Wastewater treatments works are built to handle human waste and nothing else. 

“We all have a responsibility to ensure our WWTWs perform optimally, and this can be achieved if we do what is right,” Mkhaliphi said. –