EXPLAINED | What is ‘water shifting’ and why is Gauteng introducing it?
It is an interim measure, not a permanent solution, says minister
Gauteng residents should brace themselves for “water shifting”, which will be implemented by Rand Water as an interim measure to deal with shortages.
Water and sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu on Wednesday called on the utility to implement this measure, saying Rand Water had assured him they will do load-shifting from less busy lines.
Rand Water will also redirect supply to Palmiet pumping station until the system recovers and is able to supply badly hit high-lying areas.
Last week, Rand Water said Palmiet was affected by the storm that led to taps running dry in several areas as reservoirs, including Klipriviersberg, Northridge, Germiston, Klipfontein, Brakfontein and Hartbeespoort were affected.
“We are going to water shift as an interim measure. Technicians will monitor the system 24/7 as we shift water from systems to systems,” Mchunu said.
“Water shifting is not a permanent solution, so we have to do something permanent to address this challenge. I support Johannesburg Water’s initiative to have a temporary pump station to assist the recovery of water shortages.
“Johannesburg Water will share implementation plans and time frames regarding the development of the pump at South Hills [which has been experiencing water supply problems] tower.”
Mchunu met residents of South Hills, Johannesburg, on Tuesday after water supply problems in the area.
Problems in the province include:
- Residents of Tsakane, KwaThema, Duduza in Ekurhuleni did not have water for weeks last month;
- Kirkney, Pretoria, was without water for more than three months after the Hercules West Reservoirs struggled to fill up;
- Johannesburg suburbs of Naturena, South Hills, Midrand, Berea and Linden did not have running water for three days last week; and
- On September 3 Tshwane and Rand Water blamed each other for water outages that lasted for three days, affecting areas such as Mooikloof, Waterkloof Ridge, Akasia, Soshanguve and Mabopane.
Jojina Kgantshi of Mabopane said they have not had water since Wednesday, forcing some residents to buy water.
We have been applying inappropriate solutions to misdiagnosed problems for too long. This has caused significant system degradation to the point where systemic failure is now a realityProf Anthony Turton
“For months we have been receiving water at night only in our homes, but since last Wednesday taps have been running dry. I'm unable to wash and clean my house because we have to use the little we get from the water tanker cautiously,” she said.
Thabitha Ramelepe, also from Mabopane, said they use the water they get from tankers to flush toilets and wash laundry only.
“We buy water to drink and cook because we cannot use the tank water. I don't trust the water from the tanker.
“Some days we have to run around with buckets to neighbouring place as the tankers don’t come to where we are,” she said.
On Wednesday, Mchunu, his deputy David Mahlobo and officials from Rand Water visited Soshanguve.
A resident who spoke in the meeting raised frustrations of not having water.
“On Saturday I had a wedding and did not have water. We hardly managed because of lack of water. I think it’s time the department of education intervenes in this matter because when there is no water, learners are sent home and this disturbs their academics,” she said.
The recent water supply challenges in Mabopane, including Mabopane Block A, were a result of the challenges experienced by Rand Water which resulted in low reservoir levels in Mabopane, Ga-Rankuwa, Winterveldt and Soshanguve.
Tshwane metro spokesperson Selby Bokaba said the reservoir that supplies Mabopane Block A under the main reservoir zone “remains critically low at 3%, hence the continued water supply challenges in parts of Mabopane Block A, B and D. Water supply in Block A should be restored as soon as the reservoir levels pick up.”
Environmental expert Prof Anthony Turton said water shifting is possible but there are constraints to implementation.
“The architecture of the system does not allow pumps to reverse the flow of water between reservoirs, so this would require an engineering intervention that is quite complex and likely to take time to execute. The reservoirs are insufficient to hold the 48 hours of buffering capacity needed to make this solution viable,” he said.
“The population growth through in-migration has eroded the 48-hour buffer capacity that used to exist in the system. In some places we were down to less than 18 hours of buffer capacity when I last did numerical modelling on parts of the system.
“The receiving networks [the various municipalities supplied by Rand Water] are so degraded that at least half the water pumped in is immediately lost to leaks.”
The two structural constrains would require a high level of political will and technical expertise to fix, Turton added.
“Even then, we would be looking at a decade at minimum to fully implement. We have been applying inappropriate solutions to misdiagnosed problems for too long. This has caused significant system degradation to the point where systemic failure is now a reality.”
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