Mchunu speaks out against vandalism; Rand Water to invest R28bn in new reservoirs by 2028

14th March 2023 By: Darren Parker - Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

Mchunu speaks out against vandalism; Rand Water to invest R28bn in new reservoirs by 2028

Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu
Photo by: Creamer Media's Donna Slater

Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has expressed deep ire for water infrastructure vandals, using his podium at a media briefing, in Pretoria, on March 14, to warn them that they would not be treated gently when caught.

“The attitude that we're taking as [the Department of] Water and Sanitation (DWS) and as the sector is that vandals don't deserve any respect . . . They need to be treated hard by law enforcement agencies and we will be engaging law enforcement agencies to this effect, because we are totally intolerant,” he said.

He called the act of vandalism a “luxury sin” – as opposed to an “enforced sin” such as theft borne out of desperation and poverty – because he believed that nobody was so hungry and desperate that they would need to vandalise infrastructure to rid themselves of their problems.

“You deserve no treatment other than hard treatment against you and your vandalism. This is what we’re committing,” Mchunu promised.

His comments come amid concerns surrounding South Africa’s water security and ailing water infrastructure that has, in many cases, failed to be adequately maintained, upgraded and expanded to meet growing demand.

South Africa is considered to be one of the 30 driest and most water-scarce countries in the world, with the country’s water sources mainly supported by sporadic rainfall that is unevenly distributed throughout the country and the year.

However, South Africans use significantly more water than the global average.

Mchunu noted that the average water consumption in South Africa was 233 ℓ/d per capita, while Gauteng’s average consumption was at least 300 ℓ/d per capita.

He warned that these consumption levels were far higher than the global average of 173 ℓ/d per capita. In addition to this high use, nonrevenue water was above 40% on average, compared with the international norm of 15%, while physical losses owing to leaks and burst pipes was about 25%.

In light of these findings, the DWS has engaged in a series of meetings with the cities of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni to address the sustainability of water provision in Gauteng going forward.

Through these engagements, it was determined that Gauteng’s current water demand stands at 4.56-billion litres a day. Rand Water is able to supply 4.43-billion litres a day, leaving a variance of 396-million litres a day, which is equal to 9%.

Out of the 4.43-billion litres a day supplied by Rand Water to client municipalities' systems, at least 5% is lost within the Rand Water system, resulting in 3.97-billion litres a day reaching the municipalities.

Out of this, an estimated 45% is lost within the municipalities' systems as nonrevenue water, of which at least 20% is the result of physical losses, such as leaks and burst pipes.

Mchunu said inefficiencies in the speed and quality of repairs of leaks and burst pipes contributed to the problem of water losses – exacerbated by acts of vandalism, which caused unnecessary additional setbacks.

He said that the non-implementation of water efficiency solutions such as water conservation and water demand management in municipalities was partly to blame, along with unplanned human settlement, resulting in unmetered water consumption.

Moreover, the effect of loadshedding on the bulk water treatment, storage and distribution from Rand Water to municipalities and then to customers was undermining the supply of water, in addition to the impact of low infrastructure financial investment by municipalities into water services projects such as storage reservoirs, pump stations, towers and old pipe renewals or upgrades.

Moreover, Mchunu blamed residents for not reducing their water use when asked to.

He announced several steps taken by Rand Water and the DWS to address water security in Gauteng in the short term.

Rand Water commissioned an additional 210-million-litre-a-day reservoir under the Mepleton System in Vlakfontein in February, aimed at increasing water security for parts of Ekurhuleni and Tshwane.

Further, Rand Water is increasing the treatment capacity at Zuikerbosch from 3.8-billion litres a day to 4.4-billion litres a day by 2025, by adding 600-million litres a day between 2023 and 2025. Of this figure, Rand Water will commission 150-million litres a day in June this year, 300-million litres a day in 2024, and another 150-million litres a day in 2025.

Over the long term, Rand Water is planning to invest R28-billion in constructing additional storage reservoirs for Meredale, Daleside, Klipfontein, Germiston, Hartebeeshook, Bronberg, Brakpan and Selcourt by 2028. By then, Rand Water aims to increase its storage capacity of treated water from the current number of 60 reservoirs to 72, with its storage capacity going from 6.1-billion litres a day to 7.63-billion litres a day.

Mchunu said the DWS was also accelerating the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase 2. Once completed, the project will transfer up to 485-million cubic metres of water a year from the upper reaches of the Orange river, in Lesotho, through the existing conveyance infrastructure to the Integrated Vaal River System in South Africa.

The bulk of this water will be routed to Gauteng.

Meanwhile, the City of Johannesburg’s water entity Joburg Water revised its water conservation and water demand management strategies in October 2021. The aim is to reduce water demand by 37.12-billion litres a year through technical interventions such as pressure management, active leak detection, pipeline replacement, customer metering and more. This intervention is already in place for the 2022/23 financial year and has significantly reduced physical losses, Mchunu said.

Moreover, to further improve the city's water infrastructure, Joburg Water has set aside at least R402-million for the next 18 months, which will be used to build a new Crosby pump station, a new bulk line to connect Rand Water supply into Crosby reservoir, as well as the Brixton reservoir and tower.

Mchunu explained that, in the long term, the city needed an estimated yearly infrastructure outlay of at least R6.4-billion a year to match projected infrastructure upgrades, compared with its yearly capital budget of less than R1-billion.

Further, the City of Tshwane has plans to invest an estimated R350-million over the next 24 months. The funds will be used to augment new water infrastructure such as reservoirs, bulk pipelines and towers for areas in the Soshanguve and Atteridgeville systems, the Laudium/Erasmia system, as well as in Mooikloof, Western Centurion, Garsfontein and other surrounding areas.

However, he noted that the city needed a project investment of not less than R7.8-billion year-on-year for the next ten years to match its infrastructure backlog and future upgrades.

Meanwhile, the Ekurhuleni metro has allocated R581-million over the next two years to upgrade pipelines and build new reservoirs and towers in areas such as Tsakane, Vlakfontein, Duduza, Benoni and others. However, despite these efforts, the metro still faces a backlog of at least R19.1-billion in water and sanitation infrastructure that has already surpassed its designed useful life.

Similar challenges are being faced by other municipalities in the province, with the Emfuleni local municipality investing R410-million over the next two years to upgrade infrastructure and reduce common issues such as illegal connections and poor repair quality. The Lesedi local municipality has allocated R150-million over the next two years to replace asbestos cement water supply pipelines, drill boreholes in rural areas and build a 15-million-litre reservoir for the Obed Nkosi Township.

The Midvaal local municipality plans to invest R56-million over the next two years to address aged infrastructure and install zonal bulk metres to measure demand and supply patterns accurately. Meanwhile, the Rand West local municipality has allocated R18.5-million for the construction of an alternative water supply pipeline in Glenharvie and the replacement of conventional metres with prepaid water in Finsbury.

The Merafong local municipality has earmarked R271-million for the next two years to invest in Stage 4 of the Khutsong North water project, rehabilitate the old 007 reservoir owing to structural instability caused by sinkholes and to undertake the Adata Khutsong reservoir project for the stabilisation of the reservoir foundation.

Finally, the Mogale City local municipality plans to invest R710.1-million over the next two years in several projects, including the construction of four solar-powered borehole schemes and an 8 km water reticulation system for the Sekata community.

Other projects Mchunu mentioned include the construction of a five-million-litre steel reservoir and the planning, design and implementation of a 15-million-litre steel reservoir, bulk water pipeline and sewer pipeline to support the planned Leratong node housing and commercial development.

Combined, these investments are expected to increase the water capacity by 600-million litres in Gauteng alone.

Overall, Rand Water, the metros and other water services authorities have committed an estimated R3.3-billion over the next two years to address the water and sanitation infrastructure backlog in the province.

“This narrative of saying government is not doing much in terms of building or attending to water and sanitation infrastructure is a narrative that belongs to the past. It is no longer current because it's not factual. It needs to change and that is what we're addressing,” Mchunu said, assuring residents that the water sector would not go the way of South Africa’s electricity sector.

He was speaking ahead of World Water Day on March 22, an event spearheaded by the United Nations (UN) which seeks to catalyse longer-term action involving governments around the globe. The theme for this year’s World Water Day 2023 is ‘Accelerating Change’ and seeks to inform policy and decision-makers how improvements in water resources management as well as access to water supply and sanitation services, are essential to overcoming poverty and addressing various other social and economic inequities.

“We will be participating in the UN Conference on Water in New York next week and will come back armed with information on how we can better the sector,” Mchunu said.