/ 14 October 2023

Joburg Water says systems are improving

Gift Of The Givers Drill For Water At Rahima Moosa Mother & Child Hospital In South Africa
Photo: Papi Morake/ Getty Images

There is water in Dayne’s Smith taps again, but like other residents of the suburb of Linmeyer in the south of Johannesburg, he doesn’t know how long it will last.

“I can almost guarantee and I don’t want to be a prophet of doom … that within two or three days, our water pressure is going to drop and we’re not going to have water,” said Smith, of the area’s water crisis that has taken hold since August. 

For the last 55 days, residents have gone without water, or battled with an intermittent supply. “The high-lying areas have been worst affected, but even the low-lying areas have been affected recently. Every time I contact the media, we’ll get water for like, two days and then it will go off again. And even the low lying areas will go completely dry as well.”

Older people and the disabled are the worst affected, he said. 

“The people in the old-age homes, they don’t want to go home because they can get their nappies changed but they can’t get their bums cleaned. They don’t want to go home and spend time with their families because they can’t bucket bath, they can’t get cleaned properly and people don’t realise how bad it actually is.”

Although the residents of Linmeyer are “grateful” for the water tankers provided by Johannesburg Water — “if that stops we will be desolate” — a water tanker “isn’t taking the water to our homes. People are walking one or two kilometres with buckets on their heads so they can take the water back home.” 

Critical system

Logan Munsamy, the senior manager of operations at Johannesburg Water, said the South Hills Tower, which supplies Linmeyer, remains a critical system, and is experiencing “low to intermittent flows”. He was speaking at a media briefing on the state of the water supply on Friday, which focused on the suburbs critically affected by water shortages.

The South Hills tower is fed via Rand Water’s Palmiet booster station to the Klipriviersberg reservoir. Munsamy explained that the normal average supply pressure is 4-6 bars and the current average supply pressure is 0.16–0.5 bars.

The areas affected are South Hills, Risana, Tulisa Park, Steeldale, Linmeyer, the Hill, Oakdene, Rosettenville and the Klipriviersberg estate.

Rand Water, he said, has been given permission to re-commission the area’s Meyers Hill reservoir and operate it below 1.5m level, while Johannesburg Water is planning to construct a sump/reservoir to provide at least 24-hour annual average daily demand for the South Hills tower area. This project is still at a feasibility stage.

Smith added: “The wound needs stitches but they’re putting a plaster on such a big wound, hoping it will hold … We’ve become resilient, which isn’t an excuse either because resilience means complacency. That’s why there’s a couple of us who aren’t being complacent about it and trying to do whatever we can to help the situation.” 

Signs of improvement

Munsamy explained that the Palmiet booster pump station feeds Klipriviersberg 1 and 2 and Klipfontein 1 and 2. The Klipriversberg reservoirs feed the South Hills Tower and the Alexander Park reservoir. Klipfontein mainly supplies Midrand. 

Eikenhof supplies Meredale 1 and 2 and the Waterval 1 and 2 reservoirs. “For Klipriviersberg 1 and 2, one can notice week-on-week there’s a positive trajectory. There’s an upward trajectory in the level. On October 12, the reservoirs were at 18% and 17% respectively … They’re up slightly at 19% and 18%. 

“The same applies to Klipfontein 1 and 2. Week-on-week there is an upward movement [with] 44% to 46% and 41% to 44% respectively.” 

This is a “bird’s-eye view”, he added, which “tells us that the Rand Water system that’s fed off Palmiet is going on an upward trajectory, which is positive news.” 

Rand Water’s targets for a “comfortable level” of storage at these systems are 60%.

The reservoirs under Eikenhof are showing similar improvement. Munsamy said the Meredale reservoirs had moved from 13% to 16% and 16% to 18% respectively, while Waterval 1 and 2 moved from 24% to 22% and 21% to 24%. 

Positive direction

Munsamy said the Commando road meter was not restricted and while the average supply is 2500m3/hr over 24 hours, the current average supply remains above 2100m3/hr.

The Crosby reservoir is now 5% “as compared to empty yesterday” while the Brixton reservoir is 46% as compared to 40% yesterday. The “outlet is closed at night and 50% open during the day.”

He said the Brixton tower is at full capacity and pumping depends on the reservoir level.

The Hursthill1 reservoir is 10% as compared to 6% on Thursday and its outlet is closed between 9pm and 3pm. Hursthill 2 is at 31% as compared to 25% on Thursday. Its outlet is closed between 9pm and 3am.

He said the Crown Gardens reservoir is at 88% as compared to 70% on Thursday. Its outlet is closed at night and 100% opened. The Crown Gardens tower is 30% “the same as yesterday [Thursday] and 66% as compared to 50% yesterday [Thursday]”.

Another critical system is the Berea reservoir, where the level is at 27% and the outlet is 50% opened. “We manipulate the Parktown Res-2 supply to favour Berea supply.”

The Eagle Nest’s reservoir capacity regressed to 5% as compared to 12% on Thursday and the Naturena inlet is being restricted to keep more water at the Eagle Nest’s reservoir.

Throttling supply

“One of the things that’s worked in our favour is the throttling of certain meters and reservoir outlets,” Munsamy said. “Throttling allows us to keep storage back in the reservoir so we can have sufficient storage in the morning to feed our customers. 

“…What has also helped is in terms of the Rand Water system, where certain meters get closed between 9pm and 4am and that allows their systems to recover and have storage.”

These restrictions, throughout the city, started at an average of 20% to 30%. “We upped that to 60%, some of them we’ve gone up to 70% restriction … Throttling means it’s not 100% closed, it means that the valve will be partially closed. There is a degree of water that goes into the area.”

Fully closing the valves introduce air into the system and “air and water do not mix. You get the resulting burst when you start up and it takes a period of time to clean the air out of the system”, Munsamy said. 

“That is why it’s not fully closed. However, there are systems that we have to fully close because if we don’t do that, we don’t build up sufficient storage overnight to feed during the day.”

Munsamy could not definitively say when the utility would cease the throttling operations. 

“We are monitoring it very closely on a day to day basis. We have daily engaged with Rand Water in terms of operational requirements and challenges … The positive is it looks like it is going in the right direction.”

Johannesburg Water’s chief operating officer Derrick Kgwale apologised for the water outages, describing them as “an inconvenience to communities and an inconvenience to the people”.