Monitoring drinking water quality in South Africa: Designing information systems for local needs
In South Africa, the management and monitoring of drinking water quality is governed by policies and regulations based on international standards. Water Service Authorities, which are either municipalities or district municipalities, are required to submit information regarding water quality and the management thereof regularly to the national Blue Drop System (BDS). Since 2009, a trend has emerged in which urban municipalities have been shown to consistently improve their water quality management whilst some of the rural and under-resourced municipalities are falling behind. A major concern has been that rural municipalities are failing to report the required information and are not complying with some of the regulator’s requirements that speak to the overall management of water quality monitoring rather than the actual water quality itself. This paper reflects on a case study undertaken in four rural municipalities in South Africa where a cellphone-based information system was implemented to collect information relevant to the municipality. The study was conducted by the Information for Community Oriented Municipal Services (iCOMMS) research team based at the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Cape Town. The hypothesis for the research was that improved information flow within rural municipalities – from water supplies in outlying areas to the municipal government office – can improve the efficiency of existing monitoring, if the design, development and implementation of such a system are based on collecting appropriate and locally relevant information. Water service authorities at the four field sites managed the process of monitoring in very different ways due to limited resources as well as structural challenges within each government department. The variety of stakeholders involved in water quality monitoring programmes, and the alternative methods and processes used, challenges the current understanding of information system design as well as the notion of developing a single national information system. The decentralisation of national water quality monitoring to municipal level was assessed in this research, which concluded that the BDS was of limited usefulness to water quality monitoring in the rural municipalities partaking in this research.
Keywords: water quality monitoring, information management, Blue Drop System, decentralisation, rural municipalities