Water quality killing 4000 babies a day?

8 April 2012

It always rains at Easter…well it has again this year.  Here in the Western Cape (South Africa), we are enjoying a well-deserved very wet Easter, as wet as it used to be back in the 1980s when the farmers with their red cultivars still on the vine used to dread rains about now.  After a long dry period of many months, no-one can complain though.  Even the ultra-marathon runners had a cool outing yesterday in the Two Oceans.  Well done John and his Dad for those excellent times!

On CyanoAlert issues, there are algal blooms reported for the Wannon River and Pykes Creek Reservoir in Victoria.  I read a rather defeatist article last week, in which some Australian colleagues appeared to intimate that living with blue-green algae is going to become a facet of Australian life.  Does this mean that they are not going to spend money on proper wastewater treatment?  Capital expenditure on water supply infrastructure is reportedly down by around 18% – so I would expect that engineering firms now have the capacity to take on wastewater treatment plant upgrades, this assuming that the national regulators consider this necessary.  As reported by Global Water Intelligence (see link in following article):

… over the past two decades, the economy as a whole has grown more quickly than public investment in water.It is not the sort of thing you want to read in a magazine. We all want the water business to follow a long-term trend which continuously grows ahead of the economy as a whole, because it is only by investing in water that the economy can grow. The reality is different, but it should not be a cause for despair.

Even in rich countries, there is an almost universal belief that water should be paid for by someone else [certainly the case here in South Africa…]

On the water quality theme, Global Water Intelligence posted a provocative article last week entitled “Is killing 4000 babies a day a good customer service?”.  The basis for this statement is (quote):

…the problem of utilities refusing to take responsibility for the investment they need to make in order to protect their communities and the environment continues to grow around the world. The World Health Organization claims that 4,000 babies die every day as a result of poor water and sanitation. This blood is on the hands of those utilities who have failed to provide safe water and sanitation to their existing customers, or extend it to new ones.

In a normal business, companies would take the view that their customers might be prepared to pay a little bit extra in order to avoid dying, and that would provide the money for the investment required in order to stop it happening. In the water business, however, there is an assumption that customers are cheap and it is not their problem. A third party – the federal government, international donors, or whoever – should put up the money if they don’t like the death rate.

Food (water) for thought?

Following on the articles I mentioned last week, dealing with the costs of upgrading wastewater treatment plants, the US town of Danbury (CT) may try and fight the requirement to make it stop fouling up its own water!  (and who thought there was intelligent life on planet USA? – no wonder they are spending so much money to find it in outer space!). [Source: newstimes.com]

Improvements to the city’s waste water treatment plant required by state officials could result in a 55 percent rate increase for city residents connected to the sewer system, city officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Mark Boughton said the new guidelines for phosphorus emissions, which he questions the need for, would require $40 million in improvements to the city’s treatment plant.

Some proposals that would require up to $88 million in infrastructure improvements, Boughton said, could cost ratepayers as much 70 percent more.

Members of the City Council overwhelming supported a measure Tuesday to spend $5,000 to hire a lobbyist to represent the city’s interests in Hartford.

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