Johannesburg Water to mitigate Commando System challenges, ensure steady supply

10th May 2023 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Senior Contributing Editor Online

Johannesburg Water to mitigate Commando System challenges, ensure steady supply

The Brixton water tower
Photo by: Creamer Media's Tasneem Bulbulia

The Johannesburg Water Commando System is grappling with a myriad of challenges, which is impacting on the sustainable supply of water to the regions the entity services; however, interventions are being pursued to rectify this.

Johannesburg Water procures water from bulk supplier Rand Water, and then supplies about 1.6-billion litres of potable water daily, through its network of water infrastructure, which comprises 129 reservoirs, as well as water towers.

The Commando System forms part of this network. It comprises the Brixton, Hursthill and Crosby complexes, along with four reservoirs and two pump stations – the Crosby and Brixton pump stations.

The Crosby reservoir has the capacity to store 46 megalitres of water; the Hursthill Reservoirs 1 and 2 each store 22.7 megalitres; the Brixton reservoir also stores 22.7 megalitres; and the Brixton Water Tower stores 1.1-megalitres.

The Commando System derives its name from where the Rand Water supply meter is located, which is on Commando road, Industria.

The Commando System supplies water to parts of Region B (including Northcliff, Melville, Auckland Park, Bordeux and Bryanston extensions) and Region F (including the Johannesburg central business district, City Deep, Robertsham, Linmeyer, Fordsburg, Kibler Park, Mulbarton and the universities of Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand). 

Moreover, it supplies three hospitals, namely Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, Helen Joseph Hospital and Garden City Hospital.

Crosby reservoir feeds the gravity zone (the area that is on the outlet of the reservoir such as Langlaagte and Industria) and pumps into the Brixton reservoir. The Brixton reservoir feeds the gravity zone (Brixton, Mayfair, Hursthill, Jan Hofmeyer) and high-lying areas (Melville, Auckland Park) through the tower.

The Commando System is especially prone to water shortages, along with low water pressure, especially in high-lying areas of the supply zone, owing to a multitude of factors.

These include a growing population and increasing demand, ageing infrastructure, security issues and power supply challenges.

Speaking on a media tour of the system on May 10, Johannesburg Water electro-mechanical engineer Gugulethu Quma said the infrastructure was ageing, having initially being built in the 1940s.

The entity was undertaking measures to augment the current storage capacity and, in the interim, while these were progressed, it needed to ensure that it kept losses to a minimum on existing infrastructure, in terms of repairs and maintenance, he said.

Importantly, the reservoirs are interdependent, meaning they rely on each other for water. Therefore, an issue of supply to one will have a ripple effect, causing the others to also lose supply.

The system requires a minimum flow rate of 2 500 litres per second at the Commando meter for the system to be stable. However, Quma explained that Johannesburg Water often struggles to fill the reservoirs to the required level, owing to supply challenges arising from Rand Water.

While this has been communicated to Rand Water, the bulk supplier itself is facing its own challenges such as cable and infrastructure theft, and power shortages, which constrain the level of supply, leading to the ripple effect on Johannesburg Water, and then consumers.   

Quma pointed out that theft and vandalism at the complexes were also major issues, which impacted on the performance of the infrastructure. It was also time-consuming to rectify problems in impacted areas.

Moreover, some of the budget also had to be redirected to security measures, he indicated, which impeded these funds from being used for the infrastructure.

Johannesburg Water does have security on site at the complexes, and an armed patrol at night.

However, the entity is looking to augment this further at the Hursthill Complex. Quma explained that when this was built, security issues were not as dire, and moreover, it was designed in a way that complemented the environment, with low fences. Now, the entity is exploring options to redesign this, and make it more secure.

Power outages are also another major challenge. This entails, firstly, loadshedding. While the Commando System is exempt from the lower levels owing to the critical nature of the system, it is subject to higher stages of loadshedding because of the strain on the grid.

Moreover, there are considerable incidents of cable theft and vandalism to City Power’s infrastructure, leading to long periods of outage, which impact the Commando System’s electricity supply.

A stable, consistent supply of power is needed to run the pumps.

Quma indicated that a backup generator cannot be placed at pump stations, because of competing needs and demand, as well as security issues.

He explained that these had become high targets for crime syndicates. “It has become a safer option to remove the generators to protect the lives of those that are protecting our infrastructure. Putting in a generator is actually a security risk on its own,” he averred.  

Also, renewable energy could only be used to power auxiliary and security systems, as the pumps were too energy-intensive to rely on this, Quma explained.

Focusing on individual assets, Quma noted that, at the Brixton Complex, more storage capacity was required, as over the years, demand had often come to exceed supply, which constrained the system.

Therefore, to address this, a project is underway to build a second reservoir and water tower that is slightly bigger than the current one, to augment the storage capacity of the Brixton Complex and take over some of its network supply.

This will be located fairly close to the current complex. It will be housed at a primary school, and will serve as a multi-purpose facility. The reservoir will be built underground, and the top will be covered and repurposed as a playing area for the children.

Quma acclaimed that this would serve a dual purpose, for the community, and for sustainable storage of water for the region.

The project was currently at an implementation stage, and would be progressed over the next few years, Quma informed.

Moreover, he said this complex was a hotspot for theft and vandalism. The entity, therefore, had to isolate the infrastructure from the surrounding area.

Meanwhile, pumps at the Crosby pump station were noted to be old and would be upgraded over the next year or two, Quma informed.

Also, Johannesburg Water recently completed urgent interventions aimed at improving and securing a steady water supply to the struggling Commando System. This was part of the entity’s urgent interventions to improve the poor water supply by linking the Hursthill 1 reservoir to the Northcliff reservoir. The project was completed last month.