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September 28, 2020
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September 28, 2020

BKCOB | Using technology to address water concerns

Supplied By • Chris Ettmayr | ELIDZ | BKCOB President


Water has become a widely debated topic in the Buffalo City Metro and Komani Municipality in recent times and it is a debate that has been around for the past few years.
Access to a clean and reliable water supply is a human right, primarily because humans could never survive without it. But beyond that, we also need it for animals and livestock, agriculture, and food production.
For municipalities, water is important as it is one of their main means to generate revenues, if properly provided. It is estimated that 40 to 50 percent of water in large municipalities and metros is consumed by large customers and industry. To supply water at the right quality and quantity is important to get right. Even for smaller water consumers such as residential areas, getting the right water consumption measurements is critical, especially if excessive consumption is accompanied by punitive penalties. The metering of water consumption, detection of losses, accuracy in billing and collection of money for use of water is very crucial.
A study on large water consumers in South Africa found that problems were created over time where infrastructure such as fire connections were unmetered. When new water connection applications were provided, old connections were not disconnected or merged with the new system and this resulted in some consumers having 5 or more connection points. The metering and billing teams therefore sat with a massive problem of having to try and consolidate accounts, and errors started creeping in. With multiple connections, meters were “lost” and the routine maintenance on these assets did not take place, which resulted in damage and angry customers.

Knowledge of the supply network is therefore critical to understand and the “lost” infrastructure needs to be discovered before a new system can be designed or upgraded. The guarantee of water, especially for fire fighting requirements, is something that is also becoming more and more important and it is not uncommon to see insurance companies now insisting on companies installing their own water reservoirs and booster pumps to ensure that they are protected in the event of an outbreak of fire. Some municipalities in South Africa are not able to provide the right volume of water at the right pressure to industry, which is usually only found out after a tragic event. So where do we start with correcting our own water systems within our respective municipalities? The starting point is usually a full audit with pressure testing to ensure that the entire water network is understood and correctly recorded. Meters that are installed need to be standardised so that they can all be operated and maintained in a similar manner. How does technology come into play within this system? With metering nowadays there are solutions in which meters can report autonomously to a centralised management database. This would mean that water meter readings do not need to take place on a manual basis and municipal staff members can be re-trained and re-deployed to work in other areas within the water department. The managed database can also be integrated with the municipal billing system which usually resides within the finance department and this would traditionally also be combined with the electricity or energy department for all the electricity meter billings. The useful thing about automation and digitising of billing systems is that the municipality has more control over the network and they can immediately detect illegal connections, leakages, damage, etc. They are also able to plan for network expansion once they have an understanding of the demand for water as a trend where patterns of consumption can be monitored. And now the question is what the BKCOB is doing about all of this knowledge in relation to the recent water billing disputes. The business Chamber would like to collaborate and support the metro and its water department. An industry expert has been invited to present technology options for the city and the Chamber’s Infrastructure Sub-Committee will address this in their September meeting, with the intention of trying to identify areas of collaboration that the Chamber could establish with BCMM. There is a challenge with water in the city and there are also losses of water which can be prevented. The BKCOB is in the process of highlighting the plight of its members who feel that they have been incorrectly billed for water consumption, but then a solution is also needed and the chamber will strive to try assist correct this problem currently being experienced.