Worst water crisis in 110 years

2014-09-27 06:00
Rand Water (Supplied)

Rand Water (Supplied)

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Johannesburg - The water shortage "crisis" is under control for now, the parliamentary portfolio committee on water and sanitation heard on Friday.

Rand Water's Palmiet pump station pumps water to the Kliprivierberg reservoirs, which were steadily filling their sub-reservoirs, namely Brakfontein, Klipfontein, Germiston, Meyers Hill and North Ridge.

The committee was in Johannesburg to gain understanding and find solutions to the water shortages experienced in Gauteng.

During a tour of the pump station and the Rand Water controlling centre near Glenvista, south of Johannesburg, the committee was told that most affected areas had running water again.

The North Ridge reservoir, which supplies Sunnyridge in Germiston, was still experiencing shortages on Friday afternoon.

Rand Water operations manager Matsobane Masebe said the pump station pumped 1 660 mega litres of water daily, even though it had the capacity to hold 2600. This was because the infrastructure could not handle more than 1 660 mega litres.

Masebe said copper cables from an Eskom power station in Alrode had been stolen, which led to the shortages. The sub-station supplies power to the pump station.

The Klipriviersberg reservoir supplies water to areas between Germiston and Pretoria.

He said getting a generator was not a practical solution because the pump station used up to 700MW of electricity to pump the water.

He said the company was looking at using alternative methods of receiving power, or using more than one power source.

Worst in 110 years

He said people were not aware of how closely electricity was linked to the supply of water.

"We are in that crisis where energy and water intertwine... This is an eye-opener for everyone," he told the committee.

This was the first time Rand Water had experienced a shortage of this extent in 110 years, he said.

"We've never had a crisis of this magnitude."

All the infrastructure at the pumping station was up and ready, he said.

The struggle was in refilling the reservoirs with surplus water versus supplying needy areas with water.

The reservoir water levels were still fairly low as most of the water that was being pumped through the station was being taken directly to municipalities.

As soon as the power was back at the pumping station, the water would flow at 100%, Masebe said.

The high temperatures were also making things difficult, Rand Water officials at the control centre told the committee.

The higher the demand for water, the slower Rand Water would be at supplying their backed-up demand.

Still in the red

The computer screens in the control centre room showed a list of all 58 reservoirs that Rand Water supplied.

Reservoirs whose names were in white or light green were considered stable, while those flashing red were considered critically low.

The Brakfontein reservoir which feeds Midrand, Centurion and Pretoria was one of those still in the red, the officials said.

In some municipalities, although the water levels in the reservoirs were rising, they were not yet at a high enough level for the municipal pumps to start pumping directly to consumers.

Officials hoped that by Monday all water problems would have been resolved.

Committee chairman Mlungisi Johnson said he was glad there was no water crisis.

"We heard from the operators that copper theft is a major issue.

"With Gauteng being the economic hub of not only the country, but the continent, any dysfunctionality will... easily erupt into conflict in societies."

He said the theft of infrastructure, the maintenance of facilities, a new water plan and the protection of electrical power supply to the pumping station were matters that needed to be looked into.

Meanwhile, at Bedfordview Primary School, staffers were filling dustbins with pool water to use for flushing toilets.

The school has 1013 pupils.

Bladder infections

Some parents had decided not to bring children to school during the week, the school's marketing and administrator, Lana Loggenberg, said.

She said one of the pupils had a bladder infection because pupils had avoided using the toilet.

"Each teacher has a packet of wet wipes in their class for the kids."

Boston City Campus principal Greg Menegazzi said the water shortage was a major inconvenience for students and staffers.

"It's been more problematic for the female students. It's a health and safety issue.

"We've had to try and get buckets of water to try and flush the toilets."

The staff's productivity level had declined as most opted to drive elsewhere to relieve themselves.

The campus has 1 100 students.

Read more on:    rand water  |  johannesburg  |  water

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