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Load-shedding & water cuts: Joburg makes plans for 'worst-case scenario'

Water supply fears as power cuts batter the city

20 March 2019 - 13:55 By Nico Gous
The City of Joburg is making plans to deal with ongoing power cuts, including the threat of taps running dry.
The City of Joburg is making plans to deal with ongoing power cuts, including the threat of taps running dry.
Image: Esa Alexander

Contingency plans to ensure the provision of essential services are being drawn up by the City of Johannesburg as it tries to mitigate the crippling impact of rolling blackouts.

South Africa entered it's fifth consecutive day of stage 4 load-shedding on Wednesday. Rolling blackouts have also continued throughout the nights, albeit at a reduced level.

The City of Johannesburg said on Wednesday that it had deployed 224 metro police officers to direct traffic - instead of fighting crime.

“The city is required to redirect JMPD officers from crime fighting duties to perform pointsmen duties as a result of load-shedding. Just this morning, 224 officers were deployed to address congestion,” said Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba.

Residents and municipal infrastructure are taking the brunt of the power cuts, which have led to numerous disruptions, including:

  • outages to our aged electrical infrastructure, including damage to City Power sub-stations;
  • water reservoirs not being replenished due to an inability to pump water to high-lying areas, such as Brixton;
  • traffic lights flashing red across the city once power is restored, adding to gridlock on the roads; and
  • criminals taking advantage of the dark.

On top of that, residents may have to consider stocking up on water.

City of Ekurhuleni energy head Mark Wilson told eNCA on Tuesday: “If you have stage 3 and 4 [load-shedding], you get your reservoir stations emptying, then you have a water crisis and water shortages in areas.”

"The City of Johannesburg has begun formalising plans with key departments and entities to ensure that disruptions to city services are minimised to residents as a result of rolling blackouts," said Mashaba.

"Currently, the City of Johannesburg, like most municipalities I suspect, receives little to no information from Eskom in respect of a medium-term outlook on rolling blackouts. It is of great concern that provincial government ... remain silent on the lack of information coming to municipalities.

"In this environment, it would be irresponsible for the City of Johannesburg to have no comprehensive plan in terms of how it will respond to the current levels of load-shedding, any escalation thereof and the worst-case scenario of a national blackout."

Rand Water spokesperson Justice Mohale told TimesLIVE on Wednesday that load-shedding was not affecting bulk water delivery.

“We as Rand Water, we purify and store water in bulk in our reservoirs and from there when it reaches between 60 and 80%, we channel the water to the municipality’s reservoirs. So far it’s not really affecting us … At the moment there is no threat," he said.

Johannesburg environment and infrastructure MMC Nico de Jager said on Monday that if there were four or more hours of load-shedding, “pockets of areas will have water shortages or even low pressure, because Johannesburg Water uses electricity to pump water from the reservoir into the towers”.

“Joburg Water unfortunately does not have enough water tankers to be able to assist as a form of alternative supply because of the size of areas that get affected by load-shedding,” said De Jager.

Department of water affairs spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said there was concern over the impact of load-shedding, but most of their infrastructure relied on gravity instead of pumps to move water.

“At the moment we have not received any report of any issue that has arisen from our infrastructure … We are monitoring all our operations in order for us to be able to be sure that we are not caught with our pants down,” said Ratau.