Can pre-paid and smart metres be the answer to South Africa’s water woes?
We all know by now that one of the main causes of South Africa’s water problems is ageing infrastructure, which leads to leaks everywhere.
There is also a lot of blame due to water wastage. Farmers blame industries, industries blame the mines, the mines blame government.
Indigents are also on the receiving end of the blame. Indigents are those community members who either do not have an income or their income is not enough to pay for water and other basic services. Indigents get a monthly water subsidy of six megalitres, which equates to 6 000 litres per household.
The problem comes in when these households are not monitored through a metering system. We see an obscene number of car washes established in all towns and townships. But seldom do we stop to enquire where they get their water from and if they pay for this water? Most of these carwashes use a hose pipe and water can be spotted from miles away streaming down the roads into storm drains. Instigating a change of mindset in these instances is tough, as wasting water has become a norm. Water wasters are not billed or prosecuted for water wastage.
Farmers are key role players for our continued existence, because they provide food for us to eat and we cannot live without them. Some farmers use water illegally, however, every farmer requires a licence to irrigate a certain hectare of land and some abstract more than they are licenced to do.
During a recent Water and Sanitation Master Plan Workshop held in Bloemfontein, one of the attendees suggested installation of smart metres integrated with prepaid metres. With pre-paid metres, all indigents will be supplied their monthly 6 000 litres and the metre will stop if they exceed consumption, which means supply will have to be purchased by the user. This will solve the problem of water wastage, as every user will know that they will be disadvantaged if they misuse this resource.
Smart metres are monitored from a central point and will make sure that farmers, mines and industries do not over-abstract.
If this system was in place, water users in the Cape might not be facing the day zero conundrum. The downside, however, is that considerable funds would have to be allocated for such a project. The Department of Water and Sanitation is faced with a massive backlog regarding ageing infrastructure and that would have to enjoy priority before anything else.
Water should, however, not just be a departmental problem, but a user problem. All sectors and industries should join hands. After all, everybody is affected by water loss.
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