Regulatory framework for drinking water, wastewater discharge and reuse
Department of Water Affairs (DWA) which replaced the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) from 2009, is the trustee of water in the Republic and is responsible for administering all aspects of the National Water Act (NWA). This role is expected to change progressively as regional and local water management institutions are established and responsibility is delegated to them, however it will remain the key regulator of the water sector.
Drinking water quality regulations
Mandatory drinking water quality standards are required from the Water Services Act of 1997. National Standard SANS 241 Drinking Water (SANS 241:2011), last updated in June 2011 (national standards are reviewed every 5 years) sets out the standards as in the following figure. It takes the WHO Guidelines for drinking water quality (3rd edition) as a reference. It is composed of two parts:
Municipal and industrial wastewater quality regulations
Section 26(1) of the NWA grants the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs the power to make regulations regarding the disposal of wastewater. Section 29 (1) states that the granting of licences or general authorisations by a responsible authority may include certain conditions relating to return flow and discharge or disposal of waste, such as:
Water reuse regulations
South Africa does not have general legislation requiring a percentage of water reuse. However, there are best practice guidelines for water reuse in the mining industry (see section 25.5). Outside of mining, there are regulations relating to irrigation of land with wastewater arising from a ‘controlled activity’ (more detail in NWA Section 37, referred to in section 25.3.1) from any industrial activity or by a waterwork. Notice GN 399 specifies regulations for using wastewater for irrigation as well as for its storage for the purpose of reuse. All suspended solids must be removed and the sludge disposed of according to the guidelines published by the WRC.
Water in industry: Mining
Mining is one of the largest industries in South Africa contributing about 5% to GDP. The main minerals that are mined are gold, platinum, iron, diamonds, coal, chromium, copper and iron ore. In terms of the potential chemical composition of waste, the mining sector poses the highest water risk of all industries both as a major water user, but also as a major contributor to effluent. Furthermore, the risks are higher because the effluent resulting from mining activities is often managed on-site and is not sent for treatment to sewerage plants as is the case with many other industries. Gold mining in particular can generate effluent containing high levels of cyanide, which must be treated before it can be discharged into water resources. Major sources of contamination from gold mines include oxidation of pyrite, inadequate underground settling, fissure water, waste explosives, fecal contamination, surface rock dumps, surface sand dumps, slimes dams, neutralisation chemicals and spillage from plant areas, pipelines and slimes dams.
Future regulatory scenario and conclusions
Recommendations for municipal monitoring of the water sector have been proposed by the WRC in order to standardise the monitoring process. Due to a lack of capacity in many municipalities, the DWA is likely to remain as the key enforcer of regulations until municipalities are capable of taking on the role. Until then, the standards are set to be updated or renewed every 5 years so that there is continued re-assessment of what is acceptable. Green and Blue Drop reporting will be continued. These processes are key steps that the DWA is taking to ensure monitoring and to identify areas of concern so that timely interventions can take place. Implementation of the National Water Resource Strategy will continue to guide this sector into the future.
List of laws, standards and policies