eThekwini moves to plug costly water losses

29th January 2010 By: Margie Inggs - Creamer Media Correspondent

The eThekwini municipality was losing 90 000 kℓ of water a day, which was costing about R100-million a year, eThekwini Water & Sanitation (EWS) head Neil Macleod said earlier this month.

“As a result, the city has embarked on a multimillion-rand programme to reduce water losses from 40% to 23% over five years,” he said.

Simon Scruton, eThekwini’s nonrevenue water branch manager, said the city spent about R1-billion a year on water, so the savings would amount to about 10%.

The municipality buys 880-million litres of water daily, but currently sells only 590-million litres.  However, not all the water is lost, as some of it is used by fire departments and to flush mains and public toilets. In the 2009 financial year, R37,3-million was invested in various water-loss-reduction projects and another R65-million has been budgeted for the current year.

“As a result of the investments and persistent efforts to replace the mains, reduce pressure and detect and repair leaks and bursts, water losses have dropped from 40% to 33% since October 2008,” Macleod said.

Among the 16 dedicated steps to curb water loss is the implementation of the R1,6-billion asbestos cement pipe replace-ment project, which is expected to provide the municipality with at least 50 years of leak-free service.

EWS has also improved its customer billing service to minimise anomalies by replacing 3 020 water meters that were installed in the 1970s and earlier and were underreading by about 7%.

Pressure management has proved to be one of the most effective interventions. “By reducing the water pressure, we can reduce water loss by 70-million litres a day, and every R1-million invested on pressure management translates into a R3-million saving on water losses,” said Macleod.

Pressure management started in the central business district, where a pressure-release valve station built for less than R3-million is already saving R30-million a year.

He said other pressure-reducing valve stations had been built and would soon be switched on, which would bring the pressure down significantly.

For the financial year from June 2009 to June 2010, a further 350 new pressure- reducing valve stations are being planned at a cost of R100 000.

“The city also has to get clever with illegal water connections, which are another major problem,” Macleod said. “Enlisting the help of the police to force compliance met with failure due to the aggressive response by communities. “The municipality is, instead, working on a ward-by-ward programme with councillors and has given offenders a three-month period to come clean. “Those who take advantage of the amnesty will not be back-billed and, for a fee of R250, will be connected to the city’s water supply and will become legal consumers,” Macleod said.

Those who continued to use illegal connections would, if caught, be back-billed for three years and would also have to pay stiff penalties.

MacLeod said it was imperative that the savings target be met or a new R1,5-bil-lion dam would have to be built because of water lost through leaks, bursts and illegal connections.