Fixing leaks beyond the factory fence-line

Like many municipalities, Emfuleni loses up to 45% of its water — mostly due to leaks. If this water could all be billed, there would be more money to fix old infrastructure and prevent leaks.

With Sasol's help, the Emfuleni Local Municipality, part of the Sedibeng District Municipality in the Vanderbijlpark area, has saved 750 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water over the past year. This could supply 5 454 households for a year, at 25 000 litres each a month.

These savings are due to the Boloka Metsi (save water) project, initiated in 2011 by Sasol New Energy with the Emfuleni municipality and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), on behalf of the German, British and Australian governments. Savings have been achieved by newly trained community education and plumbing teams who visited 49 000 houses to teach water saving and to repair leaks. In the process 75 new jobs were created.

"Boloka Metsi targets a 15% reduction in water demand, which will equate to a R62-million saving annually," says Bob Kleynjan, Sasol New Energy's senior manager for sustainable water. "A portion of the savings will be ploughed back into sustaining the project."

"Water conservation warriors" were chosen from local communities and trained. They went ahead of the plumbers by going from house to house to educate the householders about water conservation and also to assess problems.

The assessment was fed through to the plumbing team so they would know what to expect. Educational pamphlets on water-wise gardening, water saving and basic plumbing were given to householders.

Plumbing teams then went out. These consisted of two trainee community plumbers and a professional plumber in each team. The trainees qualified as plumbers' assistants via accredited courses.

They mainly fixed dripping taps and leaking toilets, which were the main source of the water losses.

The third phase of Boloka Metsi will be for these plumbing teams to create formalised, sustainable relationships with local authorities so they can keep being paid to stop leaks.

Three municipal partnerships have been formed by the project — with Emfuleni, Sebokeng and Evaton. The project is part of Water Sense, Sasol's approach to address shared water risks.

"Societal expectations for companies to act responsibly on water issues are increasing," says Kleynjan.

"Water Sense is a holistic water stewardship response aligned to the focus areas of the United Nations chief executive's water mandate. In addition to focused improvement in water use efficiency in our direct operations, we actively participate in catchment management and collective action initiatives to address shared water risks in the regions within which we operate."

Household leaks are one part of the problem, he says.

"Municipal pipes also leak and even when the call centre is alerted, it can take days for a response. Sasol has realised it needs to train teams to fix municipal pipes. Sasol will use the same sub-contractors as for household leaks. It's the same work, just with larger-diameter pipes."

To date, Sasol has committed R8-million and leveraged an additional R9-million through partner contributions for Boloka Metsi.

The focus is fixing leaks beyond the factory fence-line to enhance water security for all users who rely on the Vaal catchment. Some 60% of South Africans depend on the Vaal for water.

Sasol has also undertaken a comprehensive water education and leak fixing awareness campaign called Busa Metsi at Metsimaholo schools.

It has funded curriculum support material, developed in conjunction with the department of water affairs and Rand Water.

About 19 000 learner and teacher Water is Life booklets have been distributed to schools and the teachers have been trained to use them.

The project was piloted in Sasolburg. Once the success has been assessed, there will be a further rollout in Secunda, Emfuleni and Vanderbijlpark.

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Michelle Nel
Michelle Nel has worked as a freelance environmental journalist, photographer and editor for more than 20 years. She is a member of Al Gore’s Climate Leadership Corps and was the first freelancer to win the SAB Environmentalist Journalist of the Year Award for print. She serves on the Linbro Park Environmental Monitoring Committee in Gauteng, which aims to turn a closed landfill site into a recycling and recreational area. She has helped numerous organisations with their communications strategies on issues ranging from people and parks to wetlands.

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