Assessment of the physico–chemical and microbiological quality of household water in the Vaalharts irrigation scheme, South Africa
Water quality in the Vaalharts region in the Northern Cape Province, South Africa, decreased over the past few years and there was a need for the microbiological and physico-chemical assessment. This problem was identified through discussions with Vaalharts Water (Vaalharts Water User Association) in 2010 when the issue of the impact of deteriorating water quality on drinking water production was raised. It was thus important to investigate concerns of the water users association pertaining to water quality issues. The aim of this study was to assess the physico-chemical and microbiological quality of household water in the Vaalharts irrigation scheme. The main residential areas were Hartswater, Pampierstad, Jan Kempdorp and Warrenton. Faecal coliforms were detected in the raw water of all the drinking water distribution systems during 2011 and 2012. No faecal coliforms were detected in the household water during 2011. This was a very positive result, because not only did the household water comply with the SANS 241 (2011) standard (0 CFU/100ml), but the purification processes were successful by removing all the E. coli’s from the raw water. However, during March 2012 faecal coliforms were detected in the household water of Jan Kempdorp (191CFU/100ml). This could be due to point pollution and possible breakage of faecal coliforms in the distribution system. Low amounts of total coliforms were detected in the raw water of some of the drinking water distribution systems. This could be due to high amounts of other colonies (pink and purple) growing on the m-Endo agar which suppress the growth of the metallic green sheen (total coliform) colonies. The total coliform numbers complied with the SANS 241 (2011) standard of ≤10 CFU/100ml at most of the distribution systems, except for Hartswater during July 2011 (14CFU/100ml) and Warrenton during March 2012 (256 CFU/100ml). Heterotrophic plate count bacteria were very high in the household water of some of the distribution systems during 2011 and 2012 which exceeded the SANS 241 (2011) standard of ≤1000 CFU/ml. A large number of pigmented (yellow, orange, pink) and non-pigmented (white) colonies were isolated on R2A agar. This can be an indication of some failure in treatment processes. Other microbiological parameters that were tested such as faceal streptococci, Clostridia, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and fungi did not indicate any danger, but there were high levels of total anaerobic bacteria in the raw water during 2011 and 2012. A high level of anaerobic bacteria was detected in the household water of Hartswater during July 2011. Clostridia were also present in the household water of some of the distribution systems during 2011 and 2012. Sequencing results of the mdh, lacZ and uidA genes indicated that one of the isolates was identified as Enterobacter cloacae and the other isolates were E. coli. Four of the isolates were identified as Escherichia coli O104:H4. This is a pathogenic strain and raised concern. The physicochemical parameters that were measured complied with the SANS 241 (2011) standards during 2011 and 2012, but some of the parameters increased gradually from 2011 to 2012. Statistical analysis indicated that physico-chemical parameters had an influence on microbiological parameters and that deteriorating raw water may have an impact on drinking water quality. Another concern currently is that there is no SANS 241 (2011) for faecal streptococci, Clostridia, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, fungi and anaerobic bacteria. These are all opportunistic pathogenic bacteria and consuming water with high levels of these bacteria may cause health problems. This study indicated good progress in the treatment processes of the distribution systems over the two years. This may be due to the feedback given to Vaalharts Water during this study regarding the water quality of the residential areas. The physico-chemical and microbiological results of the present study indicated possible biofilm formation in the distribution systems. This may have impacts on the drinking water quality of the distribution systems. It was also evident that deteriorating raw water sources may have an impact on drinking water production.