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The State of our Water Infrastructure

In last year’s Daily Dispatch front page headline which read: “MASSIVE WATER WASTAGE”, the article highlighted that across the Eastern Cape a total of R554 million of water-related revenue was lost in 2017 due to water leaks, old infrastructure and illegal connections.

At a January 2018 workshop hosted by the Eastern Cape’s Department of Water and Sanitation to gain inputs into development of its National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, it was reported that the Province needed R116 billion to provide the infrastructure needed to meet its water and sanitation demands over the next 20 years. This amount far exceeds what is likely to come the Eastern Cape’s way over the next 20 years considering the 2018/19 Division of Revenue Act makes provision for only R8.9 billion nationally for water and sanitation infrastructure projects.

A further point worth mentioning is that our dams have a limited supply potential. A number of dams can be enlarged through rising of their walls and spillways but this is costly and does not increase the dam’s capacity by what one would consider a proportionate amount. Any new dams that are being planned will also not provide the capacity return like the older dams as the older dams were built on the best sites. Other untapped supply options are the large-scale implementation of desalination projects and water reuse.

Historically desalination has been considered too expensive given that the treatment process consumes a high volume of electricity and then it is relatively inefficient. On this latter point desalination plants that treat sea water typically only provide 60 litres of treated water for every 100 litres of sea water used. Luckily, the treatment processes are improving resulting in the need for less electricity. Added to that, if one is able to use renewable wind energy, which our coastlines have an abundance of, then the option becomes much more sustainable and economical.

Water reuse is currently being used as a water supply alternative on a very limited scale with this being for industrial use and irrigation. Unfortunately this option has an undesirable stigma attached to it, as who wants to use treated effluent. Fortunately the processes exist to treat effluent to a suitable level to create potable water. Also, many cities in the world already reuse their treated effluent. Windhoek is an appropriate example. Therefore, we will not be the guinea pigs of this option. We somehow need to overcome the negative stigma attached to it.

We are all fully aware that without adequate water supplies we cannot grow our economy as many of our industries depend on a reliable supply of water for their existence. We therefore need to urge our government to take the water loss issues seriously as every litre of water loss saved is another litre that can be channelled towards industry and additional employment. We also need to take the challenge of reducing our water consumption both at home and at our businesses. As business owners we should be asking ourselves a few questions:
· Are we using the most water efficient process available?
· Are there any water reuse opportunities within our process?
· Is our monthly water consumption as reflected on our water account what we expect of the process? In other words, are there any leaks that are resulting in water lost that we are being billed for? There are businesses out there that can assist with this.

In conclusion, the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan report that the average daily water consumption for South Africa is 237 litres per person per day against an international average of 173 litres per person per day. We all need to play our part to reduce our consumption as we do not have an endless source of water in our beautiful country.

>> Eugene Cotterrell (Pr Eng, PMP) Phuhliso Engineering Consulting