Brace yourself for 'water-shedding'

14 April 2014 - 02:01 By Olebogeng Molatlhwa
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Johannesburg will soon be struggling to maintain a reliable water supply to its more than 4 million residents.

Durban will also face a water crisis in four about years.

Water rationing - comparable to power utility Eskom's load-shedding - might be enforced if Johannesburg people fail to act to forestall it.

"We might find ourselves having water-rationing," said DA spokesman for Johannesburg Water Councillor Ralf Bittkau. "This will also cause people not to invest in Johannesburg any more."

Dr Anthony Turton, of the Centre for Environmental Management said the implications of not having a reliable water supply would be "catastrophic" for the economy, especially for "strategic water users" such as Eskom and Sasol.

Mine shafts would have to close and Eskom could be forced into more load-shedding.

Water supply interruptions could push small businesses into insolvency, Turton said.

The Times has seen a report by Johannesburg Water warning the council that unless, water usage is reduced, supply will outstrip demand by next year.

"Water demand. needs to be reduced to 450000Ml [million litres] by 2015. If this is not achieved it is highly likely that water demand will outstrip supply," the report warns.

In June 2012, the latest date for which the metro has supplied figures, the demand was already 536000Ml a year.

The problems include:

  • Poor infrastructure maintenance leading to water being wasted;
  • Inadequate commissioning of new dams and other water projects;
  • Increasing demand, and
  • Non-payment by some residents.
  • Johannesburg Water hopes to save 17000Ml this financial year, 27000Mlin 2015-2016 and "a further possible demand reduction of 60000Ml" in 2016-2017.
  • This year, Johannesburg Water is spending R1-billion on repairing water infrastructure. As part of its overall efforts, it has listed :
  • Leak control;
  • Pipe replacement; and
  • Installation of prepaid meters.

Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau last year announced that the city would plough R100-billion into the upgrading of water and electricity infrastructure over 10 years.

Consumers need not fear drastic increases in the price of water. for now.

Water tariffs in Johannesburg are expected to go up 5.8% for the 2014-2015 financial year. Durban's proposed tariff increases for water are 9.9% for domestic consumers and 12.9% for businesses.

The DA's Bittkau hit out at the authorities for not taking action sooner or finding alternative sources of water.

"The city is simply not doing enough to look into rainwater harvesting," he said.

The results of a 2001-2006 study showed that Johannesburg's water supply situation was precarious.

It said: "Demand for water from the Vaal River - particularly by commercial agriculture - has risen far faster than resource planning envisaged, and demand for water in Gauteng is expected to rise beyond the available supply from 2014."

Water demand in Johannesburg continues to increase in line with population and economic growth.

"This growth in demand cannot be sustained out of the Vaal Dam without augmentation of the water supply into the Upper Vaal catchment area," Johannesburg Water's business plan says.

Johannesburg relies on water pumped from the Vaal River, augmented by the uThukela River in northern KwaZulu-Natal and the Senqu River, in the Lesotho highlands.

Durban's water and sanitation chief, Neil Macleod, is proposing turning sewage into drinking water.

If the "toilet-to-tap" proposal was not implemented, he said, Durban would have water shortages from 2018.

He said the newly built Spring Grove Dam would not meet the growing demand for water within the next two years and that low rainfall could lead to restrictions.

Even if the construction of the proposed uMkhomazi River Dam went ahead, it would not be able to supply water before 2030.

The City of Cape Town said water rationing was not expected.

Ernest Sonnenberg, the mayoral committee member for utilities, said water consumption had decreased in part because of infrastructure improvements to prevent leaks.

"There has been a downward trend in the incidences of burst water pipes as a result of improved maintenance and upgrades to the reticulation," said Sonnenberg.

"This enabled the city in 2012-2013 to bring down its overall water losses (a combination of losses in pipes and connections, meter inaccuracies and unauthorised consumption) to 14.5%. It is less than all other metros in the country, which combined maintain an average of 29.7%," he said.

Revenue on about 32.8% of Johannesburg's water is lost because of waste and non-payment.

The auditor-general has found that the city lost R389-million worth of water as a result of technical losses, and R431-million in the 2012-2013 financial year due to "non-metering and unauthorised consumption".

Soweto and Alexandra have both been flagged for increased water consumption - but with a low rate of payment.

Soweto residents were found to consume 30% of the city's water but accounted for only 10% of Johannesburg Water's turnover.

Revenue losses were attributed to theft of water and wastage due to ageing infrastructure.

Soweto's Operation Gcin'amanzi, which includes the installation of prepaid water meters , has so far yielded individual household water savings of 55400litres a month, representing a saving of R183-million.

Additional reporting by Nivashni Nair and Denise Williams