Thames Water ordered to pay record £20 million for river pollution

31 March 2017

Thames Water Utilities Ltd sentenced in the largest freshwater pollution case ever taken by the Environment Agency

(Press Release First published:22 March 2017).

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SA’s Drinking Water Reservoirs are full of shit. Literally

30 September 2016

(Guest post by Graham Sell – republished with permission – emphasis added)

It was only when I started looking into the controversial award of a Water Use Licence (WUL) to Metsimaholo Municipality (enabling them to pump treated and partially-treated effluent from their Refengkgotso sewerage works into the Vaal Dam at Deneysville) that I realised how deeply in the pooh we are across the whole country – both literally as well as metaphorically.

Before getting back to the specifics of the Refengkgotso pipeline, take a look at the compliance table below to see how your province fares in the Green Drop stakes. The Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation (DWS) Green Drop awards program sets standards for processing raw sewage into an acceptable state for reintroduction into the environment.  As a cornerstone of the program, municipalities are required to regularly test the effluent from their waste water treatment plants to ensure that it complies with prescribed microbiological, chemical, and physical standards.

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Convention on monitoring of ship ballast water nears ratification – bbe technology ready

20 May 2016

International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM)

Invasive aquatic species present a major threat to the marine ecosystems, and shipping has been identified as a major pathway for introducing species to new environments. The problem increased as trade and traffic volume expanded over the last few decades, and in particular with the introduction of steel hulls, allowing vessels to use water instead of solid materials as ballast. The effects of the introduction of new species have in many areas of the world been devastating. Quantitative data show the rate of bio-invasions is continuing to increase at an alarming rate. As the volumes of seaborne trade continue overall to increase, the problem may not yet have reached its peak.

However, the Ballast Water Management Convention, adopted in 2004, aims to prevent the spread of harmful aquatic organisms  from one region to another, by establishing standards and procedures for the management and control of ships’ ballast water and sediments

Under the Convention, all ships in international traffic are required to manage their ballast water and sediments to a certain standard, according to a ship-specific ballast water management plan. All ships will also have to carry a ballast water record book and an international ballast water management certificate. The ballast water management standards will be phased in over a period of time. As an intermediate solution, ships should exchange ballast water mid-ocean. However, eventually most ships will need to install an on-board ballast water treatment system.
bbe’s BWM technology at the forefront of monitoring solutions

In a recent test of BWM technologies, bbe’s “10 cells” proved to be the world leader: Read more »

So little water, so much poor management of it

17 November 2015

South Africa needs an infrastructure revolution and a change in values if it is to avoid being left high and dry, writes Mmusi Maimane

THEY say countries should never waste a crisis. We need to see South Africa’s drought and water shortages as such an opportunity.

Our water system has reached a point where it could limit economic growth and development, which will therefore affect our social wellbeing and stability. This applies to both the quantity and quality of water available to us. Right now, we need to urgently and strategically manage our transition from a demand-driven to a supply-constrained economy.

With respect to quantity, we are experiencing a rapid increase in demand coupled with a steady decrease in supply. Population growth, immigration and changing consumption habits are pushing up demand. Supply is falling due to crumbling, poorly managed infrastructure aggravated by a shortage of engineers; an El Niño event; and a climate change trend making South Africa a hotter, drier country. This constitutes a looming crisis, despite Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane’s protestations to the contrary.

To make matters worse, the quality of water is also declining. Our municipal waste-water system, which treats and recycles used water, is under extreme pressure, with as many as 90% of waste-water treatment works dysfunctional. Urban and industrial effluent runs into our rivers, while acid mine drainage and the large amounts of hazardous waste that we are unable to deal with are further contributors to this problem.

It is generally agreed that at least a third but possibly up to two-thirds of our national stored water resources (in dams and watercourses) is eutrophic, meaning that it has dangerously elevated levels of nutrients that cause blue-green algae to flourish. This, in turn, produces chemicals toxic to our health. So pollution and waterborne diseases are also risking our supply.

The political and social risks of this deteriorating situation should be clear. Economic growth — and thus job creation — will be increasingly limited, leading to social instability. This will be exacerbated by rising food prices due to our increasing inability to withstand periodic droughts; our re-allocation of water from agriculture in an attempt to prevent job losses in more labour-absorbing sectors of our economy; and the general desiccation of our land due to overuse and poor farming practices.

Water insecurity will also drive energy insecurity, since energy production relies on water. Of course, water can be “imported” by means of food and energy imports that used water in their production cycle, but that option is becoming less likely because of our balance-of-payments deficit, a situation aggravated by our government’s penchant for presidential jets and the like.

As ever, the poor (particularly women and children, to whom it generally falls to collect water for cooking and washing) will suffer disproportionately — and are least able to adapt, move, or buy their way out of the problem. They are also afflicted by the least competent municipalities.

This is the bad news.

The good news is that a lot can be done to reverse this dismal state of affairs, avert the looming disaster and put South Africa back on the road to water security. Says water expert Professor Anthony Turton: “The transition can be managed, but it will require a carefully formulated strategy, driven by a policy that is based on the best available science, held together by sound political leadership embedded in robust institutions.”

Our challenge is to significantly boost water supplies, massively improve efficiency of use and increase our resilience to drought — all while ending the injustices of water provision in the past and ensuring the integrity of our ecology.

There is massive waste and inefficiency in our water systems. Wastage is due to poorly maintained infrastructure, with definitely at least a third but quite possibly up to two-thirds of all reticulated water being lost to failing infrastructure and theft. This means there is massive scope to boost our supply, but we need to channel resources — our best engineering talent and funds — to reverse the infrastructure decline.

This waste is compounded by the inefficient use of water by various sectors. We need to identify the sectors with the most potential for improvement. Here, the agricultural sector offers the greatest gains, because it uses 63% of our water for irrigation. Land management on farms has a major impact on water availability and quality. Soil erosion, for example, changes the flow of our rivers and reduces the storage capacity of our dams, resulting in the need for expensive water filtration and treatment systems. Poorly applied fertiliser and pesticides run off into rivers, polluting our water and killing aquatic life. Clearing alien vegetation is also a cost-effective, job-creating way to increase water supply on farms, because invasive plants use more than twice the water of indigenous vegetation.

Essentially, we need not only an infrastructure revolution, but also one of values. We need to recognise that our economy — and, ultimately, our wellbeing — are reliant on our national ecology, and start to treat our natural environment with the respect and care it deserves. Properly cared for and managed, our wetlands, rivers and organic-rich soil purify our water and provide resilience in times of drought. We need to restore, respect and protect our ecosystems. This requires strong leadership, which we’re not seeing right now.

Similarly, there is vast scope within our manufacturing processes and energy production for water saving, not only through efficiency gains, but through fundamentally changing the way we produce, consume and live. Once again, this begins with good governance.

As in so many other areas of state management, we know what needs to be done, but are falling short on implementation. As Mokonyane said in an interview with Chris Barron last weekend: “If you ask me, we need more bodies with the knowledge and capability, we need better management and better planning. Having the right people in the right place with the ability to do the job.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. All I would add is: “And with the government clearly having failed to rise to this challenge, it is time for a change of leadership, before we are left high and dry.”

•Maimane is the DA leader

(This article first appeared in the Sunday Times, 15 November 2015, page 18.  Republished with permission of the DA and the Sunday Times).

 

DA has quality of SA’s water resources on its radar

15 November 2015

Aquatic plants are very important stabilizers of waterbodies (Photo: Bill Harding)

Water quality is fundamentally important to South Africa’s future (Photo: Bill Harding)

As someone who has beaten the water quality drum for many years (search this blog for ‘water crisis’ articles) it is always pleasing when politicians recognize the pivotal role that water quality holds for South Africa.  This topic is currently receiving increased attention due to the very severe drought conditions currently being experienced.

The Democratic Alliance has been somewhat quiet on water quality issues since the days when Gareth Morgan held the portfolio.  Today, however, the Sunday Times (November 15, 2015, pg 18, see following post) carried an opinion piece by no less a DA member than its leader, Mr Mmusi Maimane, entitled “So little water, so much poor management of it“.  To my knowledge, addressing such a topic is a first for any leader of a political party in this country!

The article reads, inter alia, that “[to] make matters worse, the quality of water is also declining. Our municipal waste-water system…is under extreme pressure, with as many [sic] as 90% of waste-water treatment works dysfunctional“.  Furthermore, “…possibly up to two-thirds of our national stored water resources in dams and watercourses is eutrophic“.  Here Mr Maimane is referring to the legacy of inaction on the level of wastewater treatment required to prevent South African reservoirs from becoming eutrophic, a legacy that persists from the previous regime of government (see review article here for details).

Mr Maimane correctly notes that, the dire circumstances notwithstanding, there is still hope for mitigation.  What remains is for the ANC government to stop denying that there is a crisis, stop focussing solely on water quantity and to move demonstrably towards the application of more appropriate science and technology for the management of South African surface waters.

(Bill Harding is a South African aquatic scientist with a long history of experience in eutrophication and toxic algae.  He is a Certified Lake Manager – a USA certification and is the only person so registered in South Africa).

The looming water crisis, and its causes

11 November 2015

(Author: Anthony Turton)

Sitting on the Horns of a Dilemma: Water as a Strategic Resource in South Africa

South Africa is a water-constrained country with a vital need to conserve, manage, and expand its limited water resources as efficiently as possible. Since 1994, however, strategic planning has deteriorated, along with operational efficiency. Under the supposed imperatives of ‘transformation’, skilled engineering and other professional staff have been driven out of water boards (responsible for bulk water supply) and municipalities (charged with local reticulation and often also with waste management).

Municipalities are now discharging around 4 billion litres of untreated or partially treated sewage into the country’s rivers and dams every day. The Government refuses to admit the extent to which water quality has deteriorated, and a public health crisis now looms. Various reforms are feasible, but the ruling party shows little willingness to allow practical reality to prevail over its transformation ideology.

That water constraint

South Africa’s rainfall is half the global average, making it a water-scarce country. The first proposal for the construction of large dams was made in the 1870s.

In 1886 Thomas Bain, a civil engineer in the public roads department in the Cape, followed up with a book on ‘water finding’ and‘dam-making’, which urged state intervention in the construction of hydraulic (water-driven) infrastructure as an essential foundation for economic growth and social cohesion.

When South Africa became a republic in 1961, one of the State’s first major projects was the creation of a scheme to transfer water from one river basin to another. This was achieved via the Orange-Fish-Sundays scheme, which transfers water from the Gariep Dam in the Free State to arid areas in the Eastern Cape. This initiative was specifically designed not only to address the water challenge in parts of the Karoo but also to restore investor confidence after the Sharpeville shootings in 1960.

In 1970 came the report of the Commission of Enquiry into Water Matters. This report warned that South Africa’s economic development would always be water-constrained unless a coherent plan was implemented by the State to overcome this obstacle. In response, the Government imposed a tax on the bulk sale of water (the first of its kind in the world) to fund a new body called the Water Research Commission. This commission was given the task, in partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), of developing the science and engineering technology needed to address the country’s endemic water scarcity and so promote economic growth and prosperity.

Working from this foundation, South Africa became a global leader in the management of water. This allowed the country to develop the most diversified economy in the world compared with other nations with similar climatic regimes. One of its great achievements in the 1970s was the CSIR’s development of the first sewage recycling technology.

This cutting- edge innovation was put into operation in Windhoek (in what was then South West Africa and is now Namibia) in response to the absolute water scarcity in the city. This development was also part of a wider strategic initiative to harness water from a multiplicity of sources. South Africa thus became globally recognised for its ability to achieve economic growth and development despite its fundamental water constraint, which was largely overcome through high levels of technical ingenuity.

The National Water Act of 1998

After the transition to democracy in 1994, the new Government adopted the National Water Act of 1998 as one of its first ‘transformation’ interventions. This removed riparian and other common-law rights to water and made the State the public trustee of the nation’s water resources. It also gives the State the power to decide on ‘the equitable allocation of water in the public interest’, in order to address past racial and gender discrimination.

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Lots of apparent irregularities around the Elandsfontein phosphate mine?

13 October 2015

Elandsfontein looking west towards the lagoon (Carika van Zyl)

Elandsfontein, looking west towards the lagoon (Carika van Zyl)

The goings-on around the approval of mining rights for the proposed phosphate mine on the South African west coast at Elandsfontein (in the buffer zone of the West Coast National Park no less!), seem a tad murky.  There seem to be a slew of procedural anomalies and some of the specialist work, for a project that could, potentially, have ecological implications that extend into the marine environment, appears somewhat superficial – with concerns raised on review.  Political interference in favour of the mining has been alleged.  Legal opinion shows that the mining company may have been ill-advised in terms of their procedural obligations to seek approval under NEMA.  Anyway, readers need to draw their own conclusions from the following letter prepared by the stalwart conservationist heading up the opposition to the mine, Carika van Zyl.  Last week she circulated this letter with associated documents (published here with her permission):

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Misrepresentation of N3 De Beers Pass route wetland specialist findings

13 July 2015

DSC_2766

The De Beers Pass route is essentially untransformed and characterized by pastoral tranquillity and seclusion…

During 2013 we (DH Environmental Consulting, DHEC) undertook a significant body of work assessing numerous wetlands along the route of the proposed De Beers Pass N3 Toll Road (DBPR) between Warden and Keeversfontein.  Our final report, detailing our assessment of the impacts that would be incurred by the new road, was submitted in October 2013. We have not received any feedback thereon since that time.

We have recently learnt, via reviews of our and other specialist environmental impact assessment work conducted for the proposed new road, that our findings were not carried over into the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) or for the Draft Integrated Water Use Licence application (DIWULA) (these reviews may be found here).  One of the reviews concludes as follows:

The Draft EIA Report does not adequately reflect the findings of specialist studies. There have been material omissions and in general specialist findings have been watered down, with the exception of those relating to economic impacts. This is particularly true of those studies which show significant adverse impacts – these have been summarised to the extent that their significance is under-stated and preferred mitigation measures involving avoidance of impacts discarded. Accordingly, the obligation to conduct work in an objective manner as required in terms of regulation 18(c) of the 2006 NEMA EIA Regulations has not been achieved. Economic benefits, which are beneficial to the application have been fully stated (e.g. Chapter 11 of the Draft EIA Report) whereas the same cannot be said for significant adverse impacts as is demonstrated by some examples in Table 2 in this review.

DH Environmental was not provided with a copy of the DEIR or the DIWULA.  Had we been, we would have strongly contested the manner in which our findings were not carried over into these documents.

We are also extremely concerned to learn that, at public meetings, which we were not invited to attend or present our work at, the impression was allegedly created that all of the project specialists concurred with the content of the presentations being made by the Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP).  Furthermore that, inter alia,  the presentation of findings by a colleague wetland specialist were prevented from being shown at the public meetings (see report found here). Other alleged client intervention in the process is also documented.  We also find, from one of the reviews, that the opinion of the client – to wit casting doubt on the specialist findings – were included in the EIR.  This is wholly inappropriate and suggests a new low for EIAs.

A summary of our findings, which indicate the proposed route to be ill-advised, are provided below.  We strongly recommend that oversight by specialists become a mandatory component of the EIA and associated licensing processes – this to ensure that their findings have been correctly interpreted and included.  We can only wonder as to how many other EIAs have followed this practice and got away with it.

In our opinion, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the EIA process for the DBPR is sufficiently flawed for it to be set aside as being materially deficient.  We hereby disassociate ourselves with the process that appears to have been followed in deriving the DEIR and the DIWULA.

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The Prague Statement on A Need for Action to Develop Water Resources Management Systems

1 July 2015

The Prague Statement
on
A Need for Action to Develop Water Resources Management Systems by the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS)

 26 June 2015

Recognising the human right on access to safe water and protection from water hazards of every individual as enshrined in international law,

Noting with satisfaction the current and past efforts made by governments, agencies and community groups to provide access to safe water, to protect the environment and to mitigate water hazards,

Acknowledging that there is a global water crisis with critical needs for immediate action,

We, the delegates to the conference of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences in Prague, June 20-26, 2015 are deeply concerned by the water problems humanity is experiencing with increasing frequency and severity and express the following concerns and recommendations.

The hydrosphere is experiencing a global water crisis caused by uneven freshwater availability in space and time, overexploitation, environmental degradation and the more frequent occurrence of floods and droughts. In fact, 842,000 people die annually from inadequate water supply and the annual economical damage induced by floods is nearly 14 billion US dollars (average 1980-2014). This crisis is fuelled by often fragmented water management and by economic problems, especially in water-scarce regions. Low efficiency of water resources management systems, in terms of high water losses and energy consumption, is no longer sustainable and may cause irreversible damage to our societies if not promptly mitigated. At the same time water demand is ever increasing in many parts of the world, due to population growth, economic development and changing lifestyles, exacerbating the risk of unsafe water supply.

Devastating floods around the world belong to the largest disasters in terms of economic loss and financial damage. These floods are expected to increase further as a result of land use change (such as the intensification of agricultural management and surface sealing due to urbanisation), modifications of the river system (such as river training and harnessing) and more intense precipitation extremes related to climate change. More importantly, the number of people and the economic value of assets in flood prone areas have increased throughout the world, as a result of urbanisation and encroachment of floodplains, exposing an increasing number of people to floods. These factors all contribute to increased flood risk to both humans and their economic goods.

Water resources management systems are the artefacts put in place to make freshwater available to people and to protect them from water threats. Their correct functioning is essential for people’s wellbeing. Immediate action is therefore needed to evolve water resources management systems in order to address the present challenges of the global water crisis.

A call for immediate actions of governments

We call upon all local, regional and national governments and urge them to develop effective solutions to the water crisis by developing water resources management systems:

  • In order to address problems of freshwater availability and supply, the full spectrum of technical, organisational, economic, political, legal and social approaches should be considered, and implemented as needed.
  • In order to address flood risks, a holistic approach of integrated flood risk management should be adopted that considers all phases of the disaster cycle – mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
  • In all instances, a sustainable approach should be adopted ensuring that long-term issues are addressed. A comprehensive monitoring of the status of water resources is therefore needed to be able to adapt to changes in a flexible and ecologically sustainable way.
  • Instruments of managing water resources management systems should be tailored to the local hydrological, legal and societal situations to adapt to the dramatic global changes in the environment and society.
  • Cooperation of all stakeholders is needed based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels, in particular at the river basin scale.
  • Water resources management systems are a cultural heritage of humanity, yet the infrastructure to manage them efficiently and effectively is ageing and the requirements are changing. A balanced approach of preservation and adaptation is needed to meet the needs of a changing world.
  • The evolution of water resources management systems requires a sound scientific basis. Advice from the scientific community should therefore play an essential role in planning their future configuration and management.A call for immediate actions of the international scientific communityWe also call upon members of the international scientific community and urge them to develop practical and implementable methods and techniques to support adaptation of water resources management systems to the current and future challenges.
  • Adaptation of water resources management systems should build on observed evidence and rigorous system understanding. An improved understanding of hydrological processes is therefore needed, in particular at the local scale, and put into the context of broader river basin and groundwater issues.
  • An interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach is required to understand the multiple triggers of the water emergencies, and elaborate visions and solutions that are viable technically, environmentally and socially.
  • Assessment of the water future and management options is often carried out through scenario analyses. While useful for a set of questions, they do not usually account for dynamic feedbacks. Novel methods of socio-hydrology are needed that represent the long term feedbacks between hydrology and society in an explicit way.
  • The value of monitoring of water resources cannot be overestimated, particularly during times of change. Novel, efficient and accurate monitoring systems are needed in support of research and management practice.
  • Approaches to adaptive management are needed that identify priority targets and lead to feasible solutions. Given the multiple uncertainties, robust vulnerability-based approaches should be particularly developed that are people-centred and aim at reducing their vulnerability and enhancing their resilience, and give favourable outcomes under a broad spectrum of possible futures.A call for immediate actions of research funding agenciesFinally, we call upon the research funding agencies at both national and international levels and urge them to provide funding that is commensurate with the challenges of the global water crisis.
    • Enhanced funding is needed to improve the understanding of hydrological processes at all scales. Fundamental research is equally important as applied research, and is equally likely to become societally relevant, albeit over longer time scales.
    • Funding is needed to address the big questions of the water future through both small and large research groups. Interdisciplinary research within projects and across projects is essential to make

progress in understanding and developing environmentally sustainable water resources management systems.

  • Given the paramount role of adaptive management, long term funding is essential, in particular for Hydrological Observatories that unravel the long term feedbacks between water-related processes.
  • Networking between scientists around the world is already receiving substantial funding. Mobility and international collaboration should continue to be funded at a high level.
  • The support of young water scientists through structured doctoral programmes and other initiatives should be strengthened. The young generation will be the managers of the water resources management systems of the future, so investing in their education will pay back multiple times.Adopted by acclamation, in the city of Prague, Czech Republic, on this 26th day of June 2015.

 

 

Eutrophication as big an issue in the sea as in freshwater

31 October 2014

Public views on Baltic eutrophication have important policy implications

Eutrophication, caused by nutrient release from human activities such as agriculture, industry and sewage disposal, is the most serious environmental problem faced by the Baltic Sea. A number of initiatives aim to reduce the flow of nutrients – particularly nitrogen and phosphorus – into the Baltic Sea. The most recent and ambitious of these is the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP), which agreed on nutrient reduction targets for each of the nine Baltic coastal countries.

In addition to the BSAP, EU Member States bordering the Baltic Sea also have a legal responsibility to achieve ‘Good Ecological Status’ in coastal waters under the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and ‘Good Environmental Status’ in marine waters under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). An important part of implementing these directives is involving the public, and other stakeholders, in management decisions. Read more »