As National Water Week kicks off from March 15 to 18, aimed at creating awareness on the importance of water, debate and concern continues to unfold in South Africa’s water sector. There is growing concern, almost turning into general consensus, that South Africa could experience a water crisis in the not-too- distant future, particularly given a chronic lack of skills in the sector and, hence, what some are describing as inadequate management of infrastructure, especially at local government level.
Water-management areas face a water deficit, ecosystems and water resources are already being placed under pressure by various users in the sectors, and available resources and appropriate water resources are being affected by decreasing water quality, which, in turn, affect net availability.
The Water Institute of Southern Africa (Wisa) reports that water security is a significant challenge for the local water sector, with currently only 35% to 40% of river runoff water being harnessed, leaving the rest to flow into the ocean.
Wisa CE Junior Potloane says that investment is required to harness runoff water and increase storage capacity. “As one of the 30 driest countries in the world, it is important to secure water sources for economic, environmental and social needs,” he asserts.
Another challenge is the refurbishment of infrastructure for both raw and pro- cessed water. Potloane says that there are currently 274 State-owned dams that are in need of refurbishment and that 30% to 40% of water is lost through leaks in pipes. The pollution of wastewater is also a consequence of water and sanitation works working above capacity. More and improved water resource infrastructure must be provided to tackle this challenge and harness existing water resources.
Golder Associates business unit leader of environmental technology Dr Ralph Heath adds that continuous mass urbanisation has placed the water industry under severe pressure, particularly regarding sanitation. “Urbanisation and industrialisation put pressure on the country’s water management because they change the need and increase the demand for water,” he says.
Further, changes in the country during the nineties, as well as a lack of finance and skills for the management of water, resulted in shifts in water governance. This led to the malfunctioning sewerage and water works, while capacity issues in local and national government crippled proper monitoring and enforcement.
Heath adds that there are currently studies in place to validate and verify agricultural water use, which still consumes more than 50% of the country’s water. In some instances, crops have been planted in the wrong places and at the wrong times, resulting in improper water use.
Potloane notes that the skills shortage stretches from innovators to entrepreneurs, engineers, managers and operators. “Solutions to filling the skills gap should start not only at the top level, with research, but also include management skills, technical expertise and general competence,” he asserts.
Independent studies to solve the skills challenge have been done, but Potloane says that the studies are not collated and can, therefore, not be applied constructively. While considerable research and technology improvements are spearheaded locally, the dissemination to the end-users is limited.
Meanwhile, foreign companies have shown considerable interest in the local water industry. Local water purification is being developed to include many new international trends. Potloane highlights one new product where a single purifier can purify enough water for a community of about 20 000 people at once, and says that further potential exists to develop and introduce technology for purifying water and treating wastewater.
He emphasises the importance of education in creating awareness of the scarcity and economic value of water, and the development of accessible means for members of the public to report leaking pipes and other faults.
Wisa’s conference, which is held every second year, takes place from April 18 to April 22, in Durban. The conference is driven by role-players in the industry and is facilitated by professionals with a broad knowledge of the water sector. Through presentations and workshops on global and local issues, the conference aims to find solutions to the challenges of the industry.