Accelerated infrastructural planning is under way by the Departmentof Water Affairs and Forestry (Dwaf) to supplement water supply to the Vaal dam, and failure to do so will result in a water shortage in Gauteng by 2013.
Dwaf director-general Pam Yako says, “Unless we do something about the current growth trends and needs, we are going to have a water shortage by 2013.”
This is disconcerting, given that the Vaal dam supplies water not only to Gauteng and the mines in Mpumalanga and the North West province, but also supplies the bulk of Eskom’s power stations.
The necessary planning is taking place and feasibility studies are being finalised for possible projects. The department is also considering upgrading a phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, or sourcing water from the Tugela river, in KwaZulu-Natal.
“We are looking at this issue very seriously. “But, even with the fastest implementation, these [projects] will only be ready by 2019. We need to do something for the next six years,” says Yako.She says that, unlike electricity, there is no national grid for water, but rather a dependence on regional schemes.
Currently, there are 6,9-million people without access to adequate water in the country. “What do we do to make sure that community needs are balanced with economic needs?”
One of the challenges in South Africa is unlawful irrigation. In the Vaal area alone, illegal water abstraction accounts for losses equivalent to 100 ℓ/m for every household.
“We urgently need to [plug] the leak in this system,” says Yako, adding that the department has not been strong on compliance, monitoring and enforcement, but that it will “step up” efforts to deal with these challenges.
“It will take a long time to get new infrastructure of the magnitude and scale that we are talking about, and conservation and demand management are critical going forward, together with reviewing irrigation technology practices.”
While the majority of South Africans are supplied with safe drinking water in the larger towns and cities, a lack of technical expertise and inadequate treatment infrastructure has resulted in poor drinking water quality challenges, inadequate investment in operation and maintenance infrastructure and sustainability of current infrastructure.
Meanwhile, 94% of municipalities are monitoring water quality and also reporting this to Dwaf; municipalities continue to be challenged by a lack of investment in maintenance and rehabilitation of water services.
Dwaf technical regulation deputy director Leonardo Manus says that all available indicators show that the vast majority of South Africans are enjoying safe tap water, but failure, though not exclusively, occurs in smaller towns and rural areas.
“These challenges are being addressed by constantly applying regulatory pressure on municipalities to rectify and improve where and when required,” he says.
Dwaf and the Department of Provincial and Local Government are investigating the possibility of placing water services functions under their administration.
“This is a controversial issue. Municipalities have a constitutional responsibility, and we have a responsibility to monitor and regulate, and we will be playing this regulatory role more [rigorously]. The process of intervention is not as easy as it should be, because one has to deal with an independent sphere of government. There is a process to follow, and I think the debate on how we deal with the new dispensation, roles and functions between municipalities and national government is one of the issues to look at, especially where there is seriously no capacity,” she says.
As a result, Dwaf will be “beefing up” its regional offices to improve its support for municipalities. Yako suggests that the National Treasury should look at the possibility of incentivising municipal asset management.
The Cape Town, eThekwini, Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela municipalities have been identified as key cities requiring urgent water conservation and demand management attention.
“There are enough water resources, but there is a big need to address some of the challenges, such as pollution, illegal water abstraction and contamination. We need to institute water conservation and demand management in many parts of the country, where the demand is more urgent,” says Yako.
Dwaf national water resources deputy director-general Dr Cor-nelius Ruiters says that the general state of wastewater infrastructure is a cause for concern, with the general status of water treatment infrastructure varying from world class to extremely neglected.