Experts talk fresh water management at 20th Waternet Symposium

Stockholm Water Prize winner and retired academic Jaqueline King. (Azarrah Karrim/News24)
Stockholm Water Prize winner and retired academic Jaqueline King. (Azarrah Karrim/News24)

The biggest threat to South African water security is not the availability of water but the price of developing enough sources, according to Dr Beason Mwaka, a director at the Department of Water Affairs.

Mwaka was speaking on Wednesday, the first day of the 20th Waternet Symposium on the management of fresh water resources.

Since South Africa has been hit by severe drought and water restrictions which some feel is partly due to the mismanagement of infrastructure, Mwaka remarked that "the theme of the symposium is very relevant to us in South Africa".

"Our water resources are [in] remote places - it's not where you want or when you want it. So, we are going to develop infrastructure - dams, conveyer systems [and] pipelines.

"Besides the development, half the water in quantity, even the quality, is not there. In Gauteng, what used to be ground water is now acid and the cost management is also difficult."

He added that as the need for water grows new alternatives need to be sought.

"We are moving into another era where we have got to find water, ground water, desalination, water quality [where] the system needs to be managed."

The development of infrastructure, Mwaka said, is just half of the cost of what would be spent on the project as there are still environmental and infrastructure sustainability needs.

"We have heard that South Africa, by 2030, will run short of water which is a threat but … [puts it] in perspective. The real threat to water is not the water availability itself, especially when you consider that South Africa is surrounded by the sea - it is the cost of making that water that is becoming very difficult."

"The cost is what is actually the threat," Mwaka said.

Lack of development a threat

Stockholm Water Prize winner and retired academic Jaqueline King also spoke about the costs of development.

"Although we can tell quite clearly what the benefits of a development [would be], the costs of development seem to differ from river to river."

King said the impact of a lack of development could affect anything from a family's drinking water to the dairy industry.

Having recently won what is considered the water industry's Nobel prize, King said she still did not know what to do with the R2m sitting in her bank account.

She said that if governments were willing, she would collaborate with them to help them include ecological-social modelling into early stage basin planning and governance.

This, she said, would enable governments to understand and map out the impact of their plans on ecological systems so that "they can negotiate for the future they want".

All she needed was a willing SADC participant.

The symposium takes place until Friday and includes scientists, academics and business people who are discussing fresh water management.

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