Water, Sewage & Effluent May June 2019 - Page 13

The case of the city of Flint in the state of Michigan, US, provides, not only interesting reading, but also a few lessons for South Africa. Flint is the birthplace of the American automotive giant, General Motors, and had at its peak a population of 200 000 people. As the US motor industry declined, the economy of Flint deteriorated, and unemployment soared to 45%. An administrator was appointed by the State of Michigan to manage the city of Flint’s affairs. Until 2014, and over a period of 50 years, Flint was supplied with safe drinking water by the Detroit Water Company. In 2014, however, the Many municipalities do not supply DWS with data and therefore no clear national perspective is available. This leaves municipal drinking water systems unregulated and the public in the dark. Flint was supplied with safe drinking water for 50 years by the Detroit Water Company, but in April 2014, Flint’s water supply reverted to the Flint River. www.waterafrica.co.za Water Sewage & Effluent May/June 2019 11 What happened in Flint? innovations Organisation (WHO) and the now defunct Blue Drop certification system only regards water is safe if there is a proper water quality monitoring system in place as well as a water safety plan. These systems, based on international best practice, ensure that water is always safe to drink and will not be harmful to humans. However, this is where a serious flaw in the South African system has developed. The Blue Drop regulatory system for drinking water quality is an excellent process but has ground to a halt as the last Blue Drop report was published way back in 2014. Although, limited drinking water quality information is still available on IRIS (Integrated Regulatory Information System). A critical shortcoming in IRIS is that many municipalities do not supply DWS with data and therefore no clear national perspective is available. This leaves municipal drinking water systems unregulated and the public in the dark. Fortunately, best practice first world standards still apply in most major metropolitan areas – such as water supplied by Rand Water (Gauteng), Umgeni Water (Durban) as well as in Cape Town, which is therefore safe to drink. This also applies to a number of secondary cities and some smaller towns. Currently, it is however not possible for the regulator (the DWS) to state that in general all water in South Africa is safe to drink; the DWS is misleading South Africans. The World Health A spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) issued a media statement on 13 March 2019 under the headline, ‘SA’s tap water is safe to drink’. The announcement was intended to reassure the public and tourists that tap water is safe for human consumption. In the statement, noble words were used such as ‘Water is life; therefore, it is a priority for government to ensure that citizens and tourists are served with safe drinking water.’ Nothing wrong with that. Equally convincing are the words, ‘The establishment of the Blue Drop programme is among the m e a s u r e s government has put in place to ensure that our water services institutions, ie. municipalities and water services providers, deliver good quality water that complies with the South African Drinking Water Quality Standard (SANS 241).’ Lead seepage into the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, caused a major public health crisis and an outcry by the public and prompted President Obama to declare a federal state of emergency.