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Frequently Asked Questions

Water – the Future

1. What does South Africa’s water future look like?

The following are 3 articles which highlight the future of our water resources in South Africa.

Will South Africa run out of water by 2013?

While the Cabinet has given the go ahead for phase two of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project this will only deliver water by 2019 at the earliest. Last month former Water Affairs director-general Mike Muller who presently works at the University of the Witwatersrand, warned that Gauteng will run out of water in 2013.

Two weeks ago the CSIR suspended researcher Anthony Turton just before he was to deliver a presentation to a conference of scientists on the Water Crisis in South Africa. Turton’s presentation said that many rivers and dams are so polluted they can no longer dilute effluent discharged into them. He also stated that South Africa has run out of surplus water with 98% already allocated.

Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Lindlwe Hendricks acknowledged recently that South Africa will run out of water by 2013 with the present conditions as they are. She said that a serious concern was that while farmers along the Vaal River might have water authorisation they were far exceeding the amount allocated to them. A study has revealed that 180 million cubic metres of water are used unlawfully each year.

At present a wide range of industries, including mines, much of Eskom’s coal fired power stations, Sasol’s coal-to-liquid fuel facility as well as agricultural activity in four provinces could grind to a halt unless water saving and anti-theft measures are introduced to tide the country over.

Source: Simply Green

No water by 2013?
By Deon de Lange

Gauteng, the golden goose of the South African economy, will run out of water in the next five years unless urgent steps are taken to reduce theft, waste and pollution, Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Lindiwe Hendricks has revealed.

Hendricks briefed journalists in Pretoria on Thursday on the state of water supply and warned that demand would outstrip supply by 2013 in SA's most important water resource, the Vaal River System.

This system supplies 60 percent of the economy and 45 percent of the population with water, and the department estimates that demand for water in Gauteng will rise by 30 percent over the next 20 years.

"Significant intervention measures are necessary to ensure sufficient water of the required quality is made available to support community and industrial water needs, including associated energy generation and agriculture," the minister said.

The caution comes amid a furious public debate over the recent suspension of Council for Scientific and Industrial Research scientist Anthony Turton, who stands accused of bringing the institution into disrepute after suggesting the country faces political and social unrest unless the water crisis was addressed urgently.

The cabinet this week gave the go-ahead for the next phase (phase 2) of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (subject to the conclusion of project protocols with the Lesotho government). However, this R7,3-billion project will start delivering water to the region only by 2019 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, a wide range of industries, including mines, most of Eskom's coal-fired power stations, Sasol's coal-to-liquid fuel facility and agricultural activity in four provinces could grind to a halt unless water-saving and anti-theft measures are introduced to tide the country over.

"Without going into the debate on whether this constitutes a crisis, I would like to outline the actions that are being taken to ensure South Africa has sufficient water now and in the future," Hendricks said.

She said the first order of business was to stamp out water theft, or what the department euphemistically calls "unlawful extraction".

According to a study commissioned by the department, mines and farmers in the Vaal River catchment area steal about 180-million cubic metres of water each year. This is equal to the total amount of water supplied to South Africa by the Mohale Dam, the second of two dams so far completed in the Lesotho water scheme.

Hendricks accused farmers, particularly along the Vaal, Orange and Crocodile rivers, of building illegal sandbanks to dam up the river and divert water flow for irrigation purposes. Those who refuse to demolish the structures will be slapped with the bill when the government clears the sandbanks itself, she warned.

Hendricks said her department was beefing up the so-called Green Scorpions and had issued 187 directives to the "main perpetrators" in the Vaal catchment area.

More than 80 cases of water theft were being prepared for prosecution and "many more" were being investigated, the Minister said.

Hendricks explained that pollution - more than a mere question of supply - was the real long-term threat to the country's water security.

The government has set aside R4-billion to help municipalities upgrade their water treatment infrastructure, and R350-million will be spent this year to improve water treatment works in Sedibeng (Vereeniging) and Emfuleni (Vanderbijlpark), two of the worst-affected municipalities.

Official figures suggest that 5 percent of municipalities do not comply with safe drinking water standards. But the Financial Mail this week quotes insiders who claim that many municipalities don't conduct all the necessary tests, while others fail to provide monthly water samples as required.

Other water-saving measures include a Water Conservation and Demand Management Programme, not dissimilar to the government's energy-saving campaign launched last year - and relaunched this week.

The programme will include efforts to reduce leaks in water systems by 15 percent, metering water use, replacing old infrastructure, effective billing and cost recovery, promotion of water-efficient plumbing equipment, public education and awareness campaigns, and the introduction of a Water Efficiency Labelling System.

But Hendricks defended the quality of South Africa's tap water, saying: "Our tap water is still rated among the best in the world, and we are one of only a few countries where one can drink water directly from the tap."

Source: This article was originally published on page 7 of The Star on December 05, 2008

SA's ticking water bomb
By Eleanor Momberg

South Africa's water crisis was "like a ticking time bomb" waiting to explode. "All the signs are there," said Deon Nel, the manager of the World Wide Fund for Nature's Sanlam Living Waters Partnership.

Nel's confirmation of the looming water crisis comes on the heels of the warning by Dr Anthony Turton, the former natural resource and environment unit fellow at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), that the water crisis and the lack of surplus water in South Africa would hamper future economic development.

Turton also stated in a paper - which he was prevented from delivering at a CSIR conference last month - that violence similar to that experienced during the xenophobic attacks in May could be unleashed "in response to perceptions of deteriorating public health" as a result of declining water quality.

The link between health and the quality of water supplied to the populace became clear in recent weeks with the outbreak of cholera in Zimbabwe because of the collapse of water purification systems and increased pollution in rivers and wells.

The United Nations Environment Programme's fourth Global Environment Outlook, published last year, stated that more than 2 million people in the developing world died needlessly each year from waterborne diseases, and most of them were children younger than five.

Irrigation for agriculture used about 70 percent of available water. The report added that, by 2025, water use would have risen by 50 percent in developing countries and by 18 percent in the developed world.

"The escalating burden of water demand will become intolerable in water-scarce countries," the report said.

One such country is South Africa, where many water sources are being over-exploited - a fact emphasised in the South Africa Environment Outlook. This report found that almost all exploitable water sources had been tapped. It recommended that treated sewage or mine water be re-used by industry; that there be an urgent expansion of existing water conservation and water demand management initiatives; and that land and water policies and management be integrated.

The report also recommended protection against water quality deterioration as a result of a change in land use or management practices.

Turton's paper highlighted the three strategic water quality challenges that decision-makers needed to know about, and how the CSIR should respond.

His suspension and subsequent departure from the CSIR highlighted the need for urgent action to prevent a full-scale water crisis - a warning issued by the Rand Water Board Trust earlier this year.

Turton stated that the social and economic wellbeing of South Africa had three fundamental developmental drivers. These were dilution capacity, spatial development patterns and historic legacy. "If we fail to recognise them, all of our efforts will amount to naught," he wrote.

Because of the low rainfall in Southern Africa, water scarcity was a fundamental developmental constraint. "It is not only the availability of water that is a constraint, but also the allocation of it."

In this regard, South Africa has allocated about 98 percent of the national water resource at a high assurance of supply, he said. "South Africa simply has no more surplus water and all future economic development (and, thus, social wellbeing) will be constrained by this," he wrote.

Turton said an important implication was that South Africa had lost its dilution capacity, so all pollutants and effluent streams would increasingly need to be treated to ever higher standards before being discharged into communal waters.

The choices were either to change the current developmental trajectory and accept that the targets specified in the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (Asgisa) were simply unobtainable, or to have a radical rethink about how to mobilise the science, engineering and technology (SET) capacity of the South African nation.

"If we accept the former option then we can say, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that social instability will grow and South Africa will slowly slide into anarchy and chaos," he warned.

The only option was a radical rethink of how the national SET capacity should be mobilised as a matter of priority.

The spatial development pattern in Southern Africa was such that all major centres of economic development were on watershed divides, meaning that it had taken major engineering and technology to mobilise the water needed to sustain these industrial and urban conurbations. It now meant that effluent return flow out of these major industrial and urban conurbations was a major threat to future economic development, simply because the quality of the water was becoming unfit for human and industrial consumption.

"This is driving growing concerns from the public that will need to be addressed if social stability is to be maintained, if investor confidence is to be restored and if the legitimacy of the government is to remain intact," he said.

The shortage of engineers and other skilled professionals, at municipal level in particular, was exacerbating the crisis. Turton said that, because South Africa had lost its dilution capacity, the country was facing an increasing water quality problem. But, this would be dealt with by the National Water Quality Science, Technology and Policy Support Programme, which is under development.

The challenges faced by the government and the private sector were:

Sustainability, including acid mine drainage and eutrophication, for which sustainable solutions needed to be found;

Dealing with the human health issue in a country where a substantial portion of the population was immune-compromised and where the developmental legacy had exposed large portions of the population to heavy metal and radionuclide contamination arising from more than a century of gold mining; and

Climate change adaptation in which there was a need to understand exactly what climate change would do to the national water resource.

Nel said the government was largely to blame for the water crisis. But the blame rested also with the irresponsible behaviour of industry and individuals.

Nicole Barlow of the Environmental Conservation Association said that, although water supplied by Rand Water, Johannesburg Water and Cape Water was safe, there was no guarantee that water supplied to the remainder of the country was up to standard.

Nel agreed with Turton's call for greater investment in water quality, saying ecosystems such as wetlands also needed to be managed. This meant restoring riparian zones and removing invasive species.

"If you maintain good flows and a constant flushing effect in rivers, you reduce the impact carcinogens and other chemicals will have on human health," said Nel.

If ecosystems could be properly restored and maintained, the quality of water resources could improve. "We urgently need to start acting," he said.

Source: This article was originally published on page 5 of The Sunday Independent on December 14, 2008; Published on the Web by IOL on 2008-12-14 08:49:00 

2. Why is there not enough water for the future?

South Africa receives an annual rainfall of 492 millimetres whereas the rest of the earth receives 985 millimetres. This is nearly half the earth’s average. Thus South Africa is classified as a water-stressed country. There is also uneven distribution of rainfall across South Africa. The eastern half of the country is much wetter than the western half due to the nature of the weather conditions.

South Africa also experiences alternating periods of droughts and floods which affects the amount of water across South Africa. In addition, hot dry conditions result in a high evaporation rate. Scientists predict that with global warming, South Africa will experience much wetter wet seasons and much drier dry seasons, resulting in an increase in floods and droughts.

What is the truth about South Africa’s water situation?

South Africa’s average annual rainfall is about half of that received by the rest of the world, i.e. 492 mm versus 985 mm per year. Adding to this shortage is the fact that much of the rainwater is lost to evaporation. We experience fluctuating periods of flood and drought. The Minister of Water Affairs has recently acknowledged that SA is a water stressed country.

Rand Water predicts that water demand will outstrip supply by 2025 (Rand Water Water Wise & the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa) and Gauteng is likely to face water shortages as early as 2013 (Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, December 2008). Water departments around the country are doing what they can to increase storage capacity by building new dams and new transfer schemes but these come at great costs to the country and of course, you. Further to South Africa being a water stressed country, many rivers are badly affected by pollution which has an effect on the life living in these rivers and spreads disease. It also increases the cost of water as new purification methods are needed to clean the water for human use.

3. What are the solutions to the water shortage in the future?

Effective demand management and conservation campaigns are required to ensure that SA remains a water secure country. This is possible and has already started:

  • Municipalities supplied by Rand Water have reduced the water supply growth rate from 3.3% to almost zero over the last three years, despite a concurrent 3.3% population growth rate;
  • The City of Cape Town has promulgated the most comprehensive water bylaws in the country.

How we can we make a difference?

As individuals there are many simple measures to save water on a daily basis and not just in times of drought. These include reducing water wastage; reusing water where possible; identifying and repairing leaks; avoiding water pollution; protecting our wetlands; planting indigenous plants in our gardens; and reducing our carbon footprint. Although each individuals water saving is small, when added together the amount of water we can save is significant.

The 3Rs

  • Reduce your daily water use. It is easy to do;
  • Reuse water where possible. Most tap water can be used at least twice;
  • Repair leaking pipes, toilet cisterns and taps. Inspect your water meter and carry out a water audit to identify water that may be leaking without you knowing it.

Direct water use and water saving measures

Leak detection/repair
Check for dripping taps, water trickling into your toilet bowl or dripping overflow pipes and repair them. Locate your water meter and monitor any unseen leaks in underground pipes.

On average toilets use the most water in your house. Only flush when necessary. Install a dual flush toilet (button for liquid waste and a button for solid waste). Check for leaks or a running cistern it is the same as water leaking out of the tap. Fill a 1 litre plastic bottle with water or sand and place it in your cistern. It will save you 1l per flush.

Bath in a shallow bath and reuse the water for your family or garden.

Use an aerated shower head which mixes air with water so you get the same pressure but less wasted water. Limit your time in the shower and turn the tap off when soaping yourself.

Taps and wash basin
Turn tap off when not needed, while brushing teeth or soaping hands. Insert a flow restrictor or an aerated head to your taps.

Cooking & drinking
When preparing/rinsing food, run a shallow basin and do not leave the tap running.

Avoid watering between 9am and 4pm and on windy days as water is lost to evaporation. Clean gutters and outdoor areas with a broom and not with a hose. Ensure your irrigation system is set correctly. Re-use bath water. Soap in the water is not harmful to the garden. Avoid oily water from kitchens.

Wash your car with a bucket and not with a running hose.

Always run a full dishwasher or washing machine or use economy settings where available. When buying machines ask about water and energy efficiency.

Swimming pool
If you are topping your pool water up frequently, you may have a leak. Monitor how often you fill up your pool and have the leak fixed.

Never use the toilet or basins as rubbish bins. Do not litter and recycle your waste.

Is rainwater harvesting a feasible option for my house?

Rainwater harvesting involves the collection, storage and distribution of rainwater from the roof. It provides a renewable supply of natural water and has many benefits:

  • Reduces municipal water use and the demand on limited resources;
  • Lowers water bills;
  • Reduces flooding, erosion and pollution caused by storm-water runoff;
  • Makes productive gardens and plants don’t suffer during dry periods.

All rainwater systems require a catchment area, a method of storage and a way of moving the harvested rainwater to your garden. All systems differ in costs which are largely dependent on the individual layout of the property.

What about water from the house?

Water leaving the house (toilet, basins, baths, etc.) goes down the drain into pipes and then is taken to a wastewater treatment works where it is treated to a specific standard and then released into the nearest river. But not all this water needs to go down the drain. An average household (family of 4) will use between 300-400 litres of re-usable water on a daily basis. Grey water is made up of bath, shower, bathroom sink and washing machine water that can be used in the garden.

The residues, soaps, etc. in the water (in diluted quantities) can provide useful sulphates and nitrates which some experts say is more beneficial than clean tap water. It is not advisable to use your kitchen basin water as this is damaging to plant life because of the oil content. It is advisable to use biodegradable products in the washing machine. The average suburban garden accounts for about 35% of domestic water consumption.

For many years there have been a number of initiatives and projects to make South Africans aware of the water situation in the country and promote the wise use of water in their daily lives. It is time for all of us to ACT NOW!

Source: Absa booklet – Water … every drop counts