A combination of proper water management systems, incentivisation, and solid water infrastructure will enable South Africa to address the prevalent problem of municipal water losses before reaching industrial and residential consumers, suggests smart technology and solutions provider Jasco Group business development head Eckart Zollner.
He tells Engineering News that figures from the Water Research Commission indicate the total amount of all purified water lost is estimated at almost 40% and remains unaccounted for.
“We spend a lot of effort and money collecting, cleaning and distributing our water, but only 60% is distributed, resulting in a huge revenue shortfall, making this a very pertinent problem.”
In order to manage water consumption properly, water needs to be measured properly.
Zollner elaborates that, currently, water is not being measured accurately enough. While the country does have a policy of giving away free water, which is commendable and necessary, this total is not actually measured – for example, fire hydrants. This is indicative of a deep-rooted problem, with many points within the country’s water network not being measured.
Further, he explains in instances of leaks or bursts in the system, the water lost is not measured. “To measure properly, water needs to be measured at multiple points across the network.”
This entails measuring at reservoirs and dams, distribution networks – which includes the multiple lines along the distribution network, and at customer level. While dams and reservoirs are being measured presently, distribution and customer levels are being measured at some points and in some instances, but not fully.
Moreover, he indicates that measurement also entails constant maintenance of measurement infrastructure, to account for ageing infrastructure, faults, necessary recalibration and inaccurate readings. This too is not being optimised.
Further, measurements must encapsulate aspects of water volume, pressure of supply and water quality. While this is being done in large metros such as Johannesburg, investment is needed to upgrade existing measurement technologies into modern systems that provide automated data on the volumes and pressure of the water that is being sent through the system.
Currently, many measurement processes are menial, relying on people to collect readings and enter data into the system manually, which is an outdated method. Further, the intervals at which that data is being captured are not frequent enough. He emphasises that there is enough technology available to automate measurement processes.
Jasco is aiding in this endeavour by focusing on analysing collated data that is transmitted frequently to a central location. Once analysed, a history is kept. This creates digital coordinates of all the water pipes, stations, reservoirs and consumers of the network for the company.
“In conjunction with a predictive analytic model, the company can understand how much water is flowing on what day and at what time,” he explains.
Comparing this information with real-time data enables the company to make predictions and implement proactive solutions accordingly. For example, it can detect when a leak/burst occurs, and mitigate this immediately, preventing it from compounding, potentially saving many litres of water.
Zollner informs that this solution is not yet active in the South African market, despite having addressed the importance of accurate data analytics in water networks for the past 18 months. The company’s focus started with large metro municipalities that do have data that can be analysed.
The company has started discussions with larger metros to analyse historic data, where it will note elements, such as the most water demanding regions and areas that require frequent repairs and upgrades for faulty or broken water infrastructure networks; it also assists with making the database accurate in terms of noting where physical infrastructure is actually located. This allows an understanding the volume of the problem – that is, how much clean water came into the system, compared with how much water was actually charged to customers.
“You need to understand all of these metrics first, before implementing a programme identifying problematic areas, to enable the most impact in saving and managing water,” he points out.
While still in the early stages, Zollner is happy with implementation thus far, evidenced from the positive customer feedback about its value. “For me, success will come when there is proof that millions of litres of water have been saved. We are about a year away from achieving this.”
Zollner commiserates that South Africa does not yet fully appreciate water, despite its value and finite nature. Further, with municipal water, it is an expensive commodity that has been purified to high levels for drinking standards.
He emphasises that valuing water will lead to an understanding of water management, spurring an uptake of alternative methods, such as reusing water and using collected rainwater. This requires consistent public awareness campaigns.
He reiterates that value must be given to water that is provided for ‘free’, as visibility of these figures will enable an understanding of the efforts undertaken in providing such resources. “Once something is valued, you’re more incentivised to take care of it properly, over something that is free.”
Moreover, Zollner says challenges facing South Africa are its rapid development, growing population, and rapid urbanisation. These factors exert immense pressure on government for service provision. Metropolitan municipalities have huge challenges in supplying infrastructure for necessary utilities with water being one of these, and are struggling to sustain this.
“This can be solved through public–private partnerships. This requires local government to actively strive for this. This needs to be prioritised, as current development is too slow,” he concludes.