The Department of Water Affairs (DWA) has warned AfriFourm that its water testing initiative carries the possibility of a legal challenge and the potential to mislead the public about the true nature of water services regulation and performance monitoring.

Civil rights organisation AfriForum has launched its own national Blue and Green Drop Branch Project as part of an initiative to test the quality of potable and treated water in 125 municipalities across the country.

According to the DWA, the type of testing AfriForum is referring to only focuses on water quality analysis, which is just a portion of the original Blue and Green Drop audits that the department conducts on an annual basis. These focus on the entire value chain ̶  reticulation, pumping, treatment and discharge  ̶  of the waste water business. The analysis and evaluation is based on annual results and not a once off sampling which does not record any sort of trend in analysis.

“In addition, Afriforum will assess only 125 wards according to their initiative whereas our programs are focused in their entire country. Our previous assessment results alone record 821 waste water collector systems and 931 water supply systems (drinking water). So the credibility of the 125 approach is on its questionable and therefore should not be trusted by anyone,” says the DWA.

Head of Environmental Affairs at AfriForum Julius Kleynhans responded to the DWA’s remarks, saying, “AfriForum will continue with its project; threats from the DWA will not deter us. But these threats do raise serious concerns about the true state of water management in South Africa.”

Kleynhans says AfriForum will monitor the municipalities to ensure that the water is up to standard in order to promote the sustainability and conservation of the critical resource. “If standards are not upheld, we will put pressure on the municipality to step in.”

AfriForum says the water samples will be tested by independent SANAS accredited laboratories and results will be made available to the public on 17 March. However, the DWA says the law does not allow ordinary citizens access to water treatment facilities unless the Minister the Minister grants permission in writing, and questions how AfriForum plans to access the premises to conduct the tests.

“While the organization reserves the right in terms of the constitution to engage in its political programs and public engagement initiatives, the department wishes to warn the organisation that such actions carry the possibility of a legal challenge and an even more dangerous potential to mislead the public about the true nature of water services regulation and performance monitoring,” says DWA spokesperson Mava Scott.