Molewa: SA won’t run out of water

The final version of the second national water resource strategy, launched publicly on Wednesday, aimed to show how the department of water affairs's new strategy seeks to ensure that the country will not run out of water

The strategy is the legal mechanism for enforcing the National Water Act. At its core is the idea that water has to be shared “equitably”. But this is a problem with competing needs and crumbling infrastructure in the world’s 30th driest country.

Several scenarios have said by 2030 the demand for water in South Africa will outstrip supply by 15%.

Trevor Balzer, the acting director general of the department, said a water crunch was looming. “Running forward to 2030 your demand and supply could start intersecting in most of the metro areas.” The department would then have to rely on “water conservation and changes in behaviour” to ensure that there was enough to go around. 

But Molewa insisted “we will not run out of water”.

“The day when everyone has 24/7 water will come. It is doable and we must work hard to get there,” she said.

The strategy has several short- and long-term strategies to averting a nationwide water shortage. The biggest is by building things. South Africa is a world leader at this – virtually all the water in Gauteng comes from somewhere else along tunnels. The next big project is the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme, but its water will only come online in 2020. 

Desalination in Gauteng
For the coastal cities there is desalination – taking the salt out of water to make it potable. This is the most expensive way to get water, around five times more than water from a pump and treatment plant. A few plants are already working in smaller coastal cities, and for Cape Town and Durban it is the only real option to ensure demand does not outstrip supply. 

Balzer said feasibility studies for these plants had already gone ahead, so plans were advanced.

Desalination is also an option in Gauteng, thanks to the acid mine drainage water creeping to the surface that needs to be treated. The current situation has resulted in the pumping of salty water into local rivers, but by 2017 this will be treated, said Balzer, adding that this will add 5% more water to the province’s supply.

The only other solutions are to work with what we have, the acting director general said.

Water affair’s biggest campaign is in demand-side reduction and efficiency. Similar to Eskom, the department is trying to reduce leakage and teach people to use less.

This is because a third of South Africa’s water is lost. Molewa said the total loss is R11-billion a year. Taken together, this is equivalent to half of all the water currently sitting in the Vaal Dam, the source of most of Gauteng’s water. 

Recycling water
Leaks come from poor maintenance of infrastructure, with some cities and town siting with pipes that are a century old and have lead in them. Funds for water are also diverted to other projects. 

Balzer said 273 towns (30% of all towns) were “already in distress” and had problems with a secure supply of water. Treasury launched a R4.3-billion grant, specifically for municipal-water projects, this week. The department of water affairs aims to supply the projects with technical assistance because most municipalities were lacking people with the required skills.

The last solution is to recycle water. Molewa said several projects had already started and that the water recycled is drinkable. "It is very good water, better than bottled water.” 

But the thought of drinking water from your own waste is not a palatable one, however safe the water is. An attempt by the eThekwini municipality to mix recycled water with normal treated water was met with strong opposition and petitions.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho is the Mail & Guardian's News Editor. He also does investigative environment journalism.

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