South Africa will run out of water in 2030 unless there is a complete mind shift about the true value of water and a R899bn investment into the sector for the next decade.
This is a central message in the draft National Water and Sanitation Master Plan that outlines the dire situation of the country's water and sanitation sector, and lays out a turnaround strategy to avoid the country's demand for water outstripping supply in 12 years' time.
The change in mindset will have to occur at all levels of government and in business and civil society in order to avoid this stark future.
The plan, which has had extensive input from a range of stakeholders, is due to be tabled before Cabinet in May.
Two key issues that will become the new normal are that the price for water will increase and water demand will have to be cut significantly.
It states: "The new reality: water will become more expensive. Everyone, except the indigent, must pay for water and sanitation. Everyone, except those without access to piped water, must use less water."
'Costs need to decrease, revenue needs to increase'
Other key issues are providing universal water and sanitation for South Africans, equitable allocation of water resources and effective infrastructure management, operation and maintenance.
South Africa is currently investing in water and sanitation infrastructure, but this is not nearly enough to address the massive backlog in getting new infrastructure built and refurbishing the old.
The plan said to make sure the country does not run out of water, the total estimated capital investment requirement was R899bn a year – R33bn a year more than was currently being spent, leaving a 37% funding gap.
The only way to get funds was from taxes and tariffs.
"To achieve financial sustainability, costs need to decrease and revenue needs to increase," the plan said.
The plan outlined the serious situation in many municipalities, where staff running water treatment or sewerage works did not have the necessary skills or training.
64% of households have access to reliable source of water
It said 56% of wastewater treatment works and 44% of water treatment works were in a poor or critical condition. Eleven percent were totally dysfunctional.
This has an impact on our water resources and human health with the discharge of improperly treated wastewater into rivers.
The plan made provision for skills development and for a mandatory 18-month training course for all municipal water managers.
South Africa is facing a water crisis where supplies can run out in 12 years if no action is taken. Here are 11 key areas of concern:
1. Municipalities lose R9.9bn a year through leaks and unpaid water bills
2. 3 million people do not have access to a basic water supply
3. 14 million people do not have safe sanitation
4. *56% of waste-water treatment works are in a poor or critical condition
5. 44% of water treatment works are in a poor or critical condition
6. 11% are dysfunctional
7. only 5% of agricultural water is used by black farmers
8. there is only one person qualified in dam safety for every 50 dams
9. Cape Town’s catchment loses enough water to fill a dam the size of Wemmershoek because of water-guzzling alien plants
10. South Africa has lost 50% of its “water factory” wetlands
11. Water in rivers, dams, estuaries and lakes is becoming more polluted
There would have to be a move from flush lavatories to waterless sanitation as the provision of waterborne sanitation was unsustainable.
To date, 64% of households had access to a reliable source of water.
The Department of Water and Sanitation is already taking action to reduce the water deficit with plans including the next phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, conversion of acid mine drainage to usable water and serious water restrictions in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
SA's water use above world average
The use of new water sources would be implemented, including the use of groundwater and reuse of wastewater.
Capetonians, faced until recently with the prospect of a Day Zero when their taps would be switched off, have cut water consumption enormously. However, South Africa's average domestic water consumption is 237 litres a person a day, above the world average of 173 litres a person a day.
The plan says this figure is inflated because it includes all the water wasted through leaks and because of people not paying their bills. This is referred to as "non-revenue" water, which stands at an "unacceptably high" 41% in South African municipalities, of which an estimated 35% is due to physical losses of water.
According to the plan, if the country's demand continues to grow at current levels, and we continue with a "business-as-usual" scenario and take no action, the deficit between water supply and demand would be a gap of about 17% by 2030.