/ 11 October 2023

‘We need honest answers to Joburg’s water crisis’

Water Crisis2 (1)
The South Hills tower system in Joburg is consistently under strain. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Civic groups have started an online petition demanding accountability from Johannesburg Water and Rand Water for the water crisis in the City of Johannesburg 

The Johannesburg Water Crisis Committee and WaterCAN’s petition seeks “honest answers” to the water crisis in the city. The appeal, which is addressed to the leadership of both entities, was started on Tuesday. 

Over the past year, the region has witnessed a “disturbing increase” in water challenges, marked by frequent shutdowns, load-shedding, water-shedding, “rampant” water leaks and now “water shifting”, it read. This crisis has left numerous communities without water for days, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive solutions.

The petition describes how, in the “face of a rapidly escalating water crisis” and lack of engagement with affected communities, WaterCAN, an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), together with local residents associations are “raising a clarion call” for “immediate action to address these challenges”.

To understand the situation better, they have requested urgent site visits of key reservoirs in the city that include community groups and organisations as well as experts proposed by civil society and the media. They are requesting implementation plans for “responding to changing consumption patterns” to ensure that citizens receive reliable water supply. 

The groups want Johannesburg Water and Rand Waters’ plans for comprehensive monitoring systems to “track water supply in real time” to each system and the output from each reservoir. They also call for the development of a shared advocacy campaign for “water-wise citizens”.

‘Immense strain’

On Tuesday, Logan Munsamy, Johannesburg Water’s senior networks manager, said that Rand Water had experienced bulk water supply interruptions between 24 August and 24 September, including power failures, increasing consumption, a severe thunderstorm and a burst pipe.

This had caused a prolonged recovery period of both the Rand Water and Johannesburg Water supply systems. High-lying zones were battling a protracted period of no water supply.

“Johannesburg Water systems that are still under immense strain include the South Hills tower and pumping station, Crown Gardens, Commando system [which constitutes the Brixton, Crosby and Hursthill reservoirs and towers] Naturena, Midrand system, Alexander Park as well as the Sandton/Illovo reservoir system,” he explained. 

Johannesburg Water is largely unable to pump and residents in these supply zones are receiving intermittent to no water supply.

Water supply systems are highly complex and take long to recover, he added. “They are not like electricity where you can trip a switch on a breaker and in seconds you get power … thus resulting in prolonged periods of no water supply to the residents of the affected areas.” 

There is uncertainty about when water to the affected areas will be fully restored. In the interim, Johannesburg Water has deployed 50 roaming water trucks and 56 water tankers. “While this may not replace potable water, this is how the entity is ensuring residents have a regular water supply.”

The utility is pumping water into the roof tanks of the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital to ensure the facility has adequate water supply while the Helen Joseph Hospital is being fed directly through the tower system.

Upward trajectory

Since July, the city had been battling increased water consumption. “In terms of our consumption, we should be consuming 1 493 megalitres [million litres] a day, but that’s not the case. Since July there’s been an upward trajectory, it’s been going up and up.

“There have been dips, we allude these dips to times where we don’t have water in the system so less consumption, but as a whole one can see an upwards trajectory past the baseline requirement in terms of our consumption. What this equates to is roughly 12.7% above our target.” Water consumption is “increasing week after week”.

To try and bring this trajectory down, the utility has curtailed about 58 meters, restricting flow, with an additional six being proposed. Munsamy said while some meters declined, others continue to increase and “further curtailment is being affected weekly.

“The positive is that the upstream reservoirs to Rand Water will have that pressure to enable them to recover quickly. On the Joburg side, it would mean that our reservoirs will go low and … we have to pass that restriction to that outlet — to the customers that draw from this reservoir. That’s where we restrict or throttle valves or close certain systems to build up capacity for the day.”

Population growth in the city is at “an all time high” straining water systems and infrastructure backlogs are hampering water supply. The utility’s most recent annual report (2020/21) detailed R20.4 billion in infrastructure backlogs because of underfunding

“Funding is always a challenge when you want to do infrastructure upgrades. We have a lot of old infrastructure in the system, so a lot needs to be done in a short period of time,” Munsamy said, adding that infrastructure backlogs are being prioritised. 


Munsamy revealed that non-revenue water for 2022/23 was 46.1%, comprising commercial losses at 9.4%, unbilled unmetered consumption at 12.7% and physical losses at 24.1%, “which is actually losses through leaks, leaking reservoirs and pipelines”. 

Johannesburg Water plans to reduce this by implementing, among others, repairs of leaking reservoirs and tower infrastructure; repair and replacement of zonal bulk water meters; active and passive leak detection; water pipe replacement and establishing new pressure management zones and minimum night flow analysis.

Rand Water intends to construct 15 additional reservoirs within the next five years, which will create adequate capacity to buffer water supply interruptions because of power supply interruptions, he added.

The bulk water supplier will commission the Zuikerbosch water purification plant station 5A phase 2, which will supply an additional 450 megalitres (million litres) a day and it will complete the Zuikerbosch Station 5B by 2026. This will supply an additional 600 million litres a day.

Rand Water plans to install standby generators at the Eikenhof, Palmiet and Zwartkopjes booster pump stations in the next five years. 

“These generators will run a few pumps that will keep the system pressured to mitigate the impact of air locks in the system because of pump stoppages when power supply interruptions occur.”

Johannesburg Water has a reservoir construction and upgrade programme, which includes the construction of the two megalitre E Rand tower and the 20 megalitre Woodmead reservoir. Both will be completed by April next year.

A project is underway for the second 26-megalitre Brixton reservoir and two-megalitre Brixton tower, which will be completed by March 2025. This project was awarded in December 2022, with the contractor commencing work on 24 July after “withdrawn litigation”. The progress of the construction is now at 13%, according to Munsamy’s presentation.