Gauteng: Stop wasting water

2016-11-06 06:05
iSimangaliso Wetland Park near St Lucia. Picture: Alet Pretorius

iSimangaliso Wetland Park near St Lucia. Picture: Alet Pretorius

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Despite plans to divert water from the strategic reserve at Sterkfontein Dam to the critically low Vaal Dam, Gauteng residents should brace themselves for more water cuts as supply woes are expected to be around for much longer.

The government is pressing on with stringent water cuts to drastically change consumption patterns, particularly in Gauteng, where efforts to get consumers to reduce their consumption have been appalling.

The water-stressed Gauteng municipalities are now receiving 15% less water volume from the province’s biggest water utility, Rand Water, and they are also under pressure to curb wastage and deal harshly with irresponsible water consumers.

Facing a barrage of criticism over water cuts and the municipalities’ failure to communicate the scheduled reductions to residents, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has partly blamed Gauteng municipalities for poor water distribution plans.

She said it was the municipalities’ poor communication and their failure to run awareness campaigns about the looming water shortage due to the relentless drought and climate change that was worsening the situation.

Meanwhile, water levels in the country’s dams were dropping at an alarming rate due to insufficient rains and demand that has remained high.

“We are facing a major challenge in Gauteng, not because there is no water in the province, but because there is no proper water management available,” she said, adding that some municipalities thought they could put pressure on Rand Water to release more water without efforts on their part to reduce consumption, but government has stepped in and refused.

Rand Water chairperson Advocate Matshidiso Hashatse said the utility’s pattern used to be 4 800 million litres per day and on really hot days it would spike to over 5 000 million litres per day supplied to meet municipal demands.

Hashatse said if consumers did not heed the call to save water, municipalities would be forced to “throttle the supply and this would lead to a drop in pressure which affects higher-lying areas and the water would not reach those areas because more water is needed to create pressure”.

As levels at major dams such as the Vaal Dam started dropping to below 30%, Rand Water slashed its supply to municipalities by 687 million litres per day from October, focusing on metros such as Tshwane and ­Joburg.

Residents started feeling the pinch in recent days in areas such as Soweto and Midrand, which were left dry for two to three days as the municipality battled to keep up with the high demand.

Mokonyane said residents should brace themselves as the trend was set to continue unless consumers jumped on board and used water responsibly to reduce pressure on the supply system. She challenged municipalities to use their powers and bylaws to ensure water was used responsibly.

Nevertheless, the government has decided to open the sluice gates from its strategic water reserve dam to save the country’s economic hub from running dry as the Vaal Dam reached a crisis point of only 26% volume this week. The government planned to source water from the Sterkfontein Dam, nestled in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains in the Free State province, where about 190 billion litres of water will gush through the main dam’s outlets, travelling for more than 200km downstream for the next 54 days starting tomorrow, to partly fill the almost empty Vaal.

The Sterkfontein Dam, which is currently 91.5% full, is expected to transfer only 7% of its capacity to the Vaal Dam.

Mokonyane said on Friday that the situation demanded that the government tap into its reserves in the Sterkfontein Dam which was the third largest dam in the country – just to keep the Vaal Dam levels above the critical 25% volume capacity.

Sterkfontein will spew just a little bit into the Vaal Dam, which had dropped to 26% this week with no hope of any upward trend anytime soon due to late rains.

“We can’t let it go below 25% ... which will affect Eskom. We need water for Eskom to function and we need Eskom to pump water,” Mokonyane explained.

The Vaal Dam is one of the 14 interconnected dams which create the Vaal River system. The latter dropped to 49.7% this week compared with 68.8% in the same period last year. Some of the major companies supplied by the system are Eskom and Sasol

However, this does not mean once the sluice gates close at Sterkfontein, problems will be over for Gauteng. Municipalities will still be expected to vigorously implement water restrictions with residents forbidden to wash their cars using hose pipes or fill swimming pools with municipal water.

Ekurhuleni metro has become the first metro in the province to take water restrictions a step further after announcing that from tomorrow it will start implementing water rationing between 9pm and 5am. This means there will be no water between those hours.

The municipality has been battling to get its water consumers to save water and has already slapped thousands of them with penalty tariffs amounting to R1.7 million in October for exceeding the allocated water usage per month. Ekurhuleni said 3 000 business units and 41 000 households were penalised. It said water restrictions required businesses to also reduce their water consumption by up to 15% of their average annual consumption and households not to exceed 25kl consumption per month.

The municipality said if the rationing does not work, it will be forced to cut water supply during the day as well. “We have no choice but to take this drastic step as voluntary water saving measures by residents have averaged a mere 3.5% a week, a far cry from the required 15%,” the municipality said. The restrictions also require that no one use sprinklers or clean pavements using hose pipes.

In the City of Joburg, water restrictions have also not yielded the desired results of 15% reduction in ­consumption. Joburg Water spokesperson Tidimalo Chuene said 317 fines had been issued to those found contravening level 2 restrictions since September.


Despite recent rains raising hopes that the dry spell is over, the South African Weather Service has warned that the country is not off the hook just yet. 

“People should not think that because we received 10mm or 20mm of rainfall that they can start wasting water. The problem is dire at the moment,” said the agency ­spokesperson Hannelee Doubell. 

She said El Nino was “fizzling out” and chances of it returning were very slim. South Africa is currently ­recovering from the El Nino effect which brought a drought that ravaged most parts of the country, leaving farmers counting millions in losses. 

While there were prospects of better rain, the drought was still with us. It will take between three to four years for dams to refill to respectable levels. 

“There is definitely hope but recovery will be very slow. Unless we have a sudden 300mm of rainfall in South Africa,” she quipped. 

Meanwhile, the weather service has indicated in its ­November 2016 to March 2017 seasonal climate watch that there was a possibility of well above-normal rainfall conditions which, given the current drought effects, may cause flooding which will have a negative impact on other economic sectors such as agriculture. 

“The forecasting system shows enhanced chances for above-normal rainfall conditions for the coming seasons. The likelihood for extreme wet conditions is also highly favoured at least for the beginning of the summer season.” 

Doubell also said water levels at dams and other water sources have been dropping at an alarming rate despite the late rains. 

The current drought is the worst that South Africa has experienced in decades, and it has already had a severe impact on jobs in agriculture and food manufacturing.

Earlier this year, Stats SA reported that the drought last summer saw jobs in agriculture decline by 37 000. At the same time, food prices are rising because of poor rainfall. – Poloko Tau 

Read more on:    weather  |  drought

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