Brace for water shedding

SA’s water supply could face shortages similar to those in its power network, where utility supplier, Eskom, is struggling to keep the lights on.

Water utilities are under pressure after years of underinvestment while it had to expand connections to millions more denied access previously.

The result is likely to see supply disruptions akin to the power cuts implemented by Eskom, adding a new risk to economic growth, infrastructure consultants said, although the government dismisses such fears.

"Water shedding will take the form of pressure reduction to manage leaks in the system and an overall loss of assurance of supply," said Prof Anthony Turton of the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State.

Concerns over water supply have arisen after the South African Weather Service recently announced an El Nino weather system, already forecast to bring drought conditions for much of the southern hemisphere’s summer, now looked likely to extend into autumn next year, reducing water supply.

Utilities around the country have urged residents to use water sparingly. But far bigger concerns for future shortages not linked to drought are also increasing, consultants said.

"Many water and waste water treatment works, pipelines, pump stations and reticulation pipe networks are in dire need of rehabilitation if not past their ‘sell-by’ date," said Wiero Vogelzang, director for water and sanitation at Durban-based engineering consulting firm GIBB.

"Certain poor and undeveloped areas are already experiencing water shedding."

Leaky pipes meant some areas lost up to 50% of their clean water before it reached consumers, said Mr Vogelzang, adding the backlog of required upgrades runs into billions of rand.

The government has put the number as high as R700bn over the next 20 years, although this includes large cross-border projects in Lesotho, which supplies water to SA.

"The inability of municipalities to come up with concrete plans, and to spend even what has come from the Treasury directly to them is a big headache," Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said, referring to the required upgrades to water infrastructure.

"However, we will never ever have a situation of water shedding, it will never happen," Mokonyane told ENCA television.

Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO of the Water Research Commission, said SA had "always been water-scarce. We have been very smart about our water infrastructure. This will continue to be the case," Mr Naidoo said.

Source: BusinessDay Live

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