Water warning for Vaal area

2012-03-18 14:35

Pretoria - One big drought in the Vaal River catchment area over the next eight years could jeopardise the region’s agricultural and industrial output, senior Eskom and Sasol managers have warned.

Speaking at the end of the World Water Forum in Marseille, France, they said the period from now until 2020, when Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) starts delivering water to the Vaal, was one of “major risk”.

While a drought would not necessarily pose a threat to the two corporations' ability to generate power and manufacture fuel - both Eskom and Sasol are deemed “strategic water users” and unlikely to have their supply curtailed - the same would not apply to others.

Particularly vulnerable would be large industrial water users, agriculture and municipalities located in and around the country’s economic heartland, Gauteng.

Eskom’s general manager for water and environmental operations, Nandha Govender, told Sapa a drought would see the region “pushing the boundaries” of available water supply.

At risk

“The capacity of the Vaal system is a major risk. We see the crucial period being between now and 2020, when Phase II of the LHWP starts delivering water.

“The risk lies with large industrial water users, agriculture and the municipalities… It’s a situation we don’t want to get into.”

Govender also said although 2020 was the date set by government for Phase II to start delivering more water to the region, large projects of this nature often missed such targets, and the first water might only start flowing from Lesotho in 2021, or 2022.

Sasol sustainable water manager Andries Meyer said while the region “hadn’t had a drought for a long time”, and had enjoyed good rains in recent years, this did not mean a drought would not occur.

While Sasol would focus on improving its water-use efficiency, this alone would not be enough to significantly reduce the risk.

The answer lay in developing partnerships between the private and public sector on the one hand, and national, provincial and local government on the other.

Reducing risk

“Particularly in the areas of municipal water conservation demand management, as well as in the agriculture sector. This is the way to go to reduce the risk, particularly in the Vaal.”

The government needed to foster incentive schemes to encourage and promote such partnerships, Meyer said.

Govender also noted that while Eskom was doing a lot to improve its water-use efficiencies, this alone would not solve the region’s supply problems.

Currently, it was producing more electricity using less water, and had taken a “step change” in its water management practices. Its water usage would “peak” in 2021, but start dropping after this date as the new dry-cooled power stations, Medupi and Kusile, came on line, together with a shift to renewables and nuclear power.

In the short term, however, the solution lay with encouraging both local government and the agriculture sector to manage water more efficiently, he said.


According to reports, many municipalities in the region lose a quarter to a third of the water they abstract from the Vaal system through leaks. The region has also had problems with farmers illegally abstracting water.

Like his Sasol counterpart, Govender also stressed the importance of partnerships to solve this problem.

“We need to lead by example. There is not sufficient water, but working in partnerships, with national and local government, we can address challenges of water availability and quality.”

Asked how “tight” things would get for Eskom in the event of a big drought - the utility still relies largely on “wet” coal-fired power stations for the bulk of its electricity generation - Govender said there was concern.

“We’re definitely concerned. Not from a point of view of our water supply, because we are a strategic water user, in terms of the hierarchy of allocation. We wouldn’t be necessarily curtailed, not in terms of our production.

Water use

“The biggest risk we see is reputational - in terms of water being allocated to energy production versus water being taken away for basic human needs, and people not being able to do what they’re used to doing because of restrictions.

“Also with agriculture and water for food security, there you’re going to have a lot of pressure,” he said.

Eskom, which produces almost all South Africa’s electricity, uses about 330 million cubic metres of water a year to keep its power stations running; Sasol, which produces 40 percent of the country’s fuel, uses just over a third of this amount: 120 million cubic metres.

According to the department of water affairs, Phase II of the LHWP, which includes the construction of the Polihali Dam in Lesotho, is set to deliver an additional 15 cubic metres of water a second to the Vaal system from July 2020.

According to last month’s national budget, South Africa is set to spend R75 billion constructing new and renovating old water supply and sanitation systems over the next three years.

  • Piet - 2012-03-18 15:50

    I feel a new tax in the making by the ANC!

  • Grunt - 2012-03-18 15:54

    Wow! I feel very thirsty after reading that article. Water has always been a problem in the Transvaal. Why has nothing been done about it until it becomes a serious issue. South Africa in the 1980’s developed new water schemes on a regular basis with agriculture the major concern!

      Squeegee - 2012-03-18 16:07

      Massive population and industrial growth has outstripped development of alternative water sources. The Lesotho project should make a difference - eight years from now! Till then mess less and hope everyone else will too.

      roberta.keeling - 2012-03-22 13:14

      Ah - but in those days you had qualified people who cared about their jobs running the show. Today they have been replaced people who only have an interest in their pay cheques and perks.

  • rory.short1 - 2012-03-18 16:19

    What is interesting to me in this report is that there is no reference to acid mine drainage [ACM] which is rapidly approaching contact with the water table in the central Witwatersrand basin. If ACM reaches the level of the water table in its current untreated state then then everything that uses water will be poisoned anyway, plants, animals and people. If however ACM is treated, and it can be, then it can provide a huge boost to our useful water supplies. Where is the Gauteng government?

      Trevor - 2012-03-18 16:24

      Wait for the tender to go out after the new tax is implemented...we had the Amrs Deal, now the toll deal next will be the Water's the ANC way...rule by collective responsibility.

      Adil Smit - 2012-03-18 20:46

      Have you read up about the World Water Forum and their plans to "help" South Africa and other 3rd World Countries? It sounds like bad news

  • Photoguy - 2012-03-18 16:58

    Please don`t leak it will cost the taxpayer money :)

  • Mark - 2012-03-18 19:35

    Pardon me but haven't Eskom being saying for years now that the 2 new stations would be coming online by 2015 - 2016? Eskom have a habit of being conservative with the truth and they always seem to sneak such little titbits into announcements without directly admitting that their projects are running late, are costing more and thus that their planning is poor. Nevertheless their bonuses, their cushy jobs and their perks keep us paying more, year after year, for less. SA has always been a water-deprived country - we all know this - so why have Eskom, and government left this all so late, again?

  • Hugh - 2012-03-18 20:00

    And still they do not regard rain water harvesting as being a method of saving the countries resourse. still they rather look to controlling the water and the money stream than look to an alternative that in JHB and suburbs could save around 120 mega cubes of water a year if harvested and use domestically as cloths wash, body wash and lavatory flushing.

  • clinton.powys - 2012-03-18 20:08

    Eskom and Sasol should start looking at re-using the acid mine water in Johannesburg.

  • Piet - 2012-03-18 20:25

    News24 you suck!

  • Adil Smit - 2012-03-18 20:42

    This is why government shouldn't allow fracking to go ahead - 18 million litres of water per fracking well per event will have to be extracted from the Orange/ Vaal rivers as the Karoo doesn't have any. The World Water Forum met in France recently and they're eyeing South Africa. The Chairman( also Nestle CEO) was full of praises for Mrs Edna Molewa. There were discussions about how much money can be made from water in Sub-Saharan Africa.They tried to "help" Chille with water privatization as well but were kicked out. This is a worrying thing. Read up about it.

  • HendrikAfrika - 2012-03-18 21:19

    I remember our last drought, had to plant a new lawn with a bucket as no hosepipes were allowed. Another drought like that could really hurt, remember the ANC is now in charge and I doubt their ability to regulate water use. I think it is best to start buying bottles of water well ahead of time. Get a waterhole drilled if you are allowed.

  • roberta.keeling - 2012-03-22 13:12

    Water boost for Cape farmers Come to the Western Cape!

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