Water Quality the New Frontier!

18 November 2011

Poor water quality affects everyone! (Photo: Bill Harding)

Readers of Droplets will no doubt have perceived by now that the biggest challenge to our socio-economic future is the (rapidly) degrading quality of our water resources.  Allied to this is the near-total lack of knowledge regarding the “hidden”, read ‘not analysed for” pollutants likely to be in these same supplies.  These issues bear significant, far-reaching and, potentially, economically-crippling risks for any country that has failed to heed them.  South Africa has consistently failed to heed these warnings for decades.

The South African Constitution, as do many similar social precept treaties around the globe, guarantees a right to an environment that is safe for both humans and animals.  Such a guarantee implies, directly, that the necessary structures are in place to ensure that this is so.  Regrettably they are not.

I believe that it is arguably accurate to state that ignorance, wilful or otherwise, of the need to ensure the safe quality of water supplies or to warn of the risks if they are not, constitutes a crime against humanity.  The responsibility for meeting the obligations of ensuring safe water quality lie not with the Department of Water Affairs alone, but with the South African Government.   Additionally, any industry that knowingly causes a water resource to become polluted, bears the same responsibility. The days when they could argue that “they had an exemption” are long gone!  Feigned ignorance of the facts is no longer an excuse.

Government and municipalities are responsible for the bulk of the pollution that enters our water resources, via stormwater and the disposal of wastewater effluent.  Droplets has observed before that while local authorities place onerous and sometimes nonsensical requirements on developers for the management of their stormwater, they do little to set a good example.  Bruma Lake, see post of a day or so earlier, is a case in point, as observed in an article in yesterday’s The Star:

Acid mine drainage and its effects have caught the media’s attention.

Yet the media, the government and the public remain largely blind to the massive health hazard and ecological disaster looming as a result of stormwater (mis)management.

One cannot look at the state of our waterways today and hide from the fact that there has been a lack of control or accountability for years.

Unabated development post-1994 has not seen any pressure put on developers and industry to account for on site stormwater management.

The problem is globally-generic.  Even in Canada, which our Department of Water Affairs regards as a stirling example of how to manage water quality, problems are rife.  Also reported yesterday was this:

More than a decade after deadly gaps in drinking water management killed seven people in Walkerton, Ont., the federal government is still failing to ensure all Canadians have access to safe drinking water, according to a new report from Ecojustice.

Waterproof 3, the environmental organization’s third drinking water report card, gives the federal government an ‘F’ for lagging in almost every aspect of water protection for which it is responsible. Of greatest concern is the government’s reluctance to create rigorous national drinking water standards that protect all Canadians.

Traditionally, gaps or deficiencies in the frontlines of drinking water protection — the laws, programs, policies and personnel directly responsible for delivering safe and clean drinking water — were the greatest threat to drinking water quality in Canada. Waterproof 3, however, identifies climate change, unprotected source water and government cuts as the greatest emerging threats to the country’s water drinking systems.

Other key findings in Waterproof 3 include:

  • In some jurisdictions, improvements to water treatment, standards and testing have stalled and lost some of the momentum that came in the wake of the Walkerton tragedy
  • Full-fledged source water protection — a crucial first step in achieving safe drinking water systems — is lacking in industry-heavy areas where the risk of contamination is high
  • New technology has yet to translate into comprehensive, centralized and easily-accessible water advisories, particularly in remote rural areas

Those responsible for water quality today need to be aware that you have a moral responsibility to speak out, i.e. not toe the company line, as you will be called to account for your inactions in the future.  There are also many in senior positions who are obvious by their sustained silence on these matters!  If you are too scared to speak out for fear of losing your job, then you don’t deserve the position in the first place!

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