It is imperative that water resources and assets be protected and preserved through collective and holistic water management to secure the economic future of South Africa, says engineering consultant WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff hydrology senior associate Karen King.
The need for such strategies is brought into sharp focus amid the country’s challenges regarding the quantity of its water and the quantity available, with inconsistent rainfall varying greatly in terms of when and where it occurs, she adds.
Clean water resources are also diminishing, owing to population growth, with urbanisation, misuse of water resources, growing demand because of economic growth, climate change influences and the destruction of wetlands further compounding the issue.
“Groundwater resources are limited and we rely heavily on augmenting these resources . . . almost all the water that can be allocated for use has been allocated – it’s not as if more rivers can simply be dammed for use.”
She stresses that good water management is imperative for securing the viability of general economic activity in the country and this acknowledgement has led shareholders, government and consumers to increasingly call on industry to use water resources in socially and environmentally sustainable ways.
King explains that water management needs to occur on multiple levels. Many of the country’s dams, for example, have become silted up as a result of poor management, which has greatly reduced their water capacity. Conveyance losses are also a concern, with vast amounts of water lost in the process of transferring it, owing to the poor maintenance of infrastructure. Wastewater treatment infrastructure also needs to be better maintained and the operations at treatment plants reviewed to improve the removal of particles and contaminants that affect the quality of water.
WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff director Greg Matthews says a decrease in or potential lack of water supply and sanitation will have a socioeconomic impact on the country, compounding the problem of poverty and affecting quality of life while hampering the realisation of economic opportunities.
“Water is key to business surety. Unlike the alternative energy options that are available to augment the national grid supply of power during shortfalls, water resources cannot be so readily replaced. If there is no water, there is no business.”
Going forward, he stresses that water-dependent businesses will, thus, no longer be able to take their water supply for granted, but will have to invest in extensive planning to incorporate efficient and sustainable water management strategies into operations.
“Companies are also realising that improving water quality, reducing consumption and reusing what they have can result in significant savings and increase profits,” King reiterates.
Addressing Water Problems
Matthews notes that there are a lot of good strategies that have been put forward by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS); however, he questions the rate at which these strategies are being implemented.
“The National Water Resource Strategy is very sound and has numerous actions that will facilitate appropriate water management. The pace of implementation is, however, of concern as it is taking longer than expected.”
King highlights that the DWS is working to create awareness around drought-related issues and placing a lot of focus on improving the country’s water storage capacity, either through the somewhat controversial consideration of building new dams or, alternately, by increasing the capacity of existing dams. She outlines that the department is also looking to upgrade the country’s water infrastructure networks and create or improve access in areas where water services currently do not exist or are not readily available.
The DWS has also established a water-use licence authorisation process that forces commercial water users to track, monitor and report on their water use and the quality of the water upstream and downstream of their facilities, taking into account their immediate water neighbours. “This is an important step forward, as it means that users should be held accountable for water contamination that has occurred as a result of activities at their site.”
The department is also clearly indicating the value it places on water through its pending water tariffs, which it hopes will encourage users to be more mindful of their water use and implement behavioural changes that will ensure the more efficient use of water. Water shedding and water-use moratoriums are also being implemented in some areas.
King highlights the notable improvement of water use in the private sector, with many companies gauging their water use more carefully and implementing water efficiency measures in line with the ideas of reducing, reusing and recycling. She notes that there are also legal mechanisms, promoted by the DWS, that are driving increased responsibility for water management in the sector.
However, while the department has been establishing catchment management agencies, she stresses that it is critical that government drives this element of its water management strategy more rapidly, as these are the regulatory bodies charged with regulating and managing catchment management strategies to augment and preserve water resources.
“Water resources have to be collectively and holistically managed and, as a country, we are making headway in this endeavour, although it has been slow. Campaigns like Water Week need to be driven and supported to ensure further discussion around these points and to raise awareness on how important it is for everybody to be involved in water management,” concludes Matthews.