No substitute for water

The City of Johannesburg is the largest and wealthiest city in South Africa and accounts for 16% of the country’s gross domestic product. It hosts South Africa’s largest corporations as well as many other international corporations operating on the African continent. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa and is one of the 40 largest metropolitan areas in the world. It has a projected population of 5.2 million (December 2015) made up primarily of individuals aged between 30 and 39 years. This total population translates into 1.44 million households.

Johannesburg Water (JW) is a municipal entity wholly owned by the City of Johannesburg and is mandated to provide water and sanitation services to the residents of Johannesburg. The entity provides water and sanitation services to an area stretching from Orange Farm in the south to Midrand in the north, Roodepoort in the west and Alexandra in the east.

The entity supplies about 590 000 domestic, commercial and industrial customers and serves an estimated consumer base of about 4.4 million people (Census 2011). Considering that the population of the city has been growing at a rate of about 3.6% per annum, the current population of the city at a growth of 3.6 % is estimated at 5.2 million people.

JW supplies 1 574 megalitres per day of potable drinking water, procured from Rand Water, through a distribution network of 11 896km, 116 reservoirs and water towers and 35 water pump stations. The spent wastewater is then collected and reticulated via 11 786 km of wastewater network and 37 sewer pump stations, treating 973 Ml/day of sewage at its six wastewater treatment works, of which two are biogas-to-energy plants which convert methane gas to energy.

South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world. The country receives an average rainfall of less than 500mm a year, which is less than the world average of about 860mm.  This then means that South Africa can be considered a semi-arid country, receiving enough rain at times and sometimes not. 

Water supply in Gauteng is increasingly under pressure and the City of Johannesburg’s water demand is continuously increasing 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. Gauteng currently imports water from the Lesotho Highlands. The Lesotho Highlands Project is Africa’s largest water transfer scheme. 

Water conservation in South Africa is imperative for sustainable growth and development. Learning new and more efficient habits of consuming water should be on every resident’s priority list because there is no substitute for water. 

On a daily basis an average person uses water to brush their teeth twice a day, to take a shower or a bath twice a day, to flush the toilet about four times a day, to cook, clean the house, to fill eight glasses to drink, to do laundry, to run their business and to irrigate. 

What substitute can one use to continue with the daily functions of water?

The City of Johannesburg is more than 100 years old and therefore faces challenges of ageing infrastructure, which impacts negatively on infrastructure and operational efficiency as more water leaks or bursts are experienced — leading to high water losses and unaccounted-for water. As much as water losses have a bearing on financials, it is crucial to note that continuous increases in water losses increase the risk of an unreliable and unsustainable water supply.

The entity is service delivery oriented and has identified key programmes to ensure the delivery of reliable and quality services to all residents including the marginalised areas. The key programmes include infrastructure development, access to basic services, accelerated Water Conservation and Water Demand Management, with financial sustainability being crucial to supporting the identified key programmes.

Infrastructure Development

In light of the ageing infrastructure challenges that the entity is facing, which requires huge capital investment to address, the entity invested a total of R3 702-billion in water and sewer infrastructure. The aforementioned investment enabled the infrastructure capacity to increase.

The capital budget is split between operational capital and service delivery capital. Operational capital is aimed at improving the operational efficiency and performance of the entity.

Service delivery capital investment which entirely covers infrastructure development is comprised of projects that will have a return on investment, not necessarily of a financial nature, but of an environmental or social nature, and also manifests itself in terms of extension of services.

Water Conservation and Demand Management

The organisation has implemented a Water Conservation/Water Demand Management plan which consists of water pipe replacement, Soweto Infrastructure rehabilitation, refurbishment and installation of Pressure Reducing Valves (PRVs) and the education and awareness of the public in conserving water. All projects are showing positive savings including a reduction in physical losses due to a 10.6% decrease in bursts over the past two years. 

The population of Johannesburg grows by an average of 3.75% per annum and as a result the organisation has to ensure that future growth is always being accommodated in order to ensure water security and economic growth that will alleviate poverty and unemployment. In the last five years the investments in drinking water storage and wastewater treatment capacity has been increased to track the aforementioned population growth.

Capital investment increased drinking water storage capacity by 3.3% from 1 636 to 1 692 megalitres to unlock development in the economic corridors (25 000 hhe), ensure 24-hour fire-fighting storage and provide resilient storage during prolonged power outages and the recent 2015 drought and El Niño conditions.

Johannesburg Water is hard at work to find innovative ways to conserve water and it recently launched a borehole water campaign to encourage those residents that can afford to, to invest in a borehole for irrigation purposes and decrease their dependency on municipal water supply. For those that cannot afford to drill a borehole, JW will soon be introducing the cistern project, asking residents of Soweto to allow for the exchange of their nine-litre cisterns for 4.5-litre cisterns,  resulting in water conservation. 

There is always something one can do to conserve water. However little one can save will be a contribution to the future.

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