Cape Town and Durban residents to drink poo-lluted water!

18 October 2012

Like our hinterland compatriots, who have been drinking water substantially augmented with ‘treated’ wastewater effluents for decades, this delight is on the cards for Cape Town and Durban, so says our Department of Water Affairs.  While this has been mentioned before for KZN, this is the first open announcement that Cape Town will also be affected.

What immediately comes to mind, as acknowledged by DWA, is that much will depend on the technical ability, equipment quality and rigorous attention to detail that needs to accompany the recycling of wastewater.  South African wastewater treatment plants are not glowing examples of how best to treat our bodily wastes.  If this goes ahead, bottled water is going to become even more of an investment option.

Jo Burgess, vice-president of the Water Institute of SA, said the first reaction of many people to drinking sewage water was: “Yuck.” However, South Africans had indirectly been drinking recycled sewage water for several decades from rivers contaminated by sewage overflows from shack settlements and municipal treatment works.

Treated effluent has made up a significant portion of what goes into our inland dams, such as in Gauteng for example – and the parlous state of nearly all of them shows how dangerous this practice can be.  It seems to be a quirk of human nature that, if we put the effluent in a dam and then take it out again to treat to potable quality, this is much better than it going directly from the outlet of the wastewater treatment works to the intake of the drinking water plant.  What goes unseen here, of course, is the damage that is caused to the ecosystem of the dam – and the problems of eventually ending up with a Hartbeespoort Dam-type scenario.  Many of our major dams no longer have the capacity to absorb any more pollution!

Recycled wastewater is apparently much cheaper than desalination – but I will have to see this to believe it.  To get our treatment plants up to spec to recycle wastewater for drinking purposes is unlikely to be any cheaper, in fact its probably going to be dearer.

On the issue of costs, we live in a country being ripped apart by corruption in Government departments.  Just today I read that:

It is estimated that corruption in the water sector currently drains 15-40% of water-related investments annually. 

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