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“We are staring down the barrel,” mentioned Professor Anthony Turton, a water useful resource administration specialist at the University of Free State, at a public engagement on 26 October with Joburg residents and water specialists about the ongoing water disaster in Gauteng.

This is regardless of Rand Water CEO Sipho Mosai emphasising at a media briefing lately that there is greater than sufficient water going into the system.

The City of Joburg and Rand Water have been at pains to say that the current water shortages in elements of Gauteng had been initially brought on by energy failures (not scheduled load shedding) at two of Rand Water’s purification vegetation in Vereeniging in late September after which exacerbated by scheduled rolling blackouts.

Simon Xaba, the common supervisor of operations at Rand Water, informed Daily Maverick: “It is my opinion that if you have this frequent load shedding, you are technically fiddling with the stability of power.”

But whereas energy performs an integral function in getting water pumped into reservoirs, Turton emphasised that specialists in the water sector had identified for the final 20 years that South Africa would face a water deficit in the future.

They predicted in 2002 that by 2025 South Africa would want 63 billion cubic metres to service demand for the nation regardless of solely having 38 billion cubic metres of water accessible in dams.

Turton, the former vice-chair of the analysis advisory panel for the National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS) at the CSIR, defined to Daily Maverick that the first NWRS  — which was printed in 2004, however the technical crew had been workshopping the knowledge since 2002 — is the most definitive research of the steadiness between water demand and provide South Africa has seen. At the time, the technical crew quantified the nation’s complete water quantity at 53 billion cubic metres.

The 2004 NWRS acknowledged: “If we look forward to the year 2025, even if we factor in further infrastructure development, we find that several additional water management areas will most likely be in a situation of water deficit.”

There have been two NWRSes since, one in 2013 and one which got here out this 12 months, which is nonetheless below public evaluate. Both used the identical knowledge as the first report.

Since then, unbiased peer-reviewed research have used refined mathematical modelling to revise SA’s complete water quantity from 53 billion cubic metres to 48 billion cubic metres. Turton defined that the quantity is decrease partly as a result of of local weather change and the extra refined modelling system.

However, the accessible water in South Africa’s dams quantities to simply 38 billion cubic metres.

This is as a result of we will’t use water that is identified in authorized phrases as the reserve. The reserve consists of two elements: water in reserve wanted for primary human wants, which is 25 litres per particular person per day that needs to be left in the river if there is no piped water out there in that space; and the ecological reserve, which is wanted to maintain the ecological performance of the ecosystem. 

So, assuming that the dams are full and that no storage capability has been misplaced to sediment, South Africa has entry to 38 billion cubic metres of water. But we want 63 billion cubic metres of water to service demand by 2025.

Even in 2008, WWF South Africa warned that 98% of out there water assets was already totally used and the nation may run out of water by 2025.

“This doesn’t mean the taps will run dry, but that water-intensive industries won’t be able to continue working as before and there may be water rationing,” mentioned the chief govt of WWF South Africa, Morné du Plessis, in a media briefing in 2008.

“What we’re saying about water today [in 2008] is what the energy people were saying to the government 10 years ago,” Du Plessis mentioned.

Etienne Hugo, common supervisor of operations at Johannesburg Water, talking at a  public assembly on the Joburg water disaster at Marks Park Sports Club, Emmarentia, Johannesburg, 28 October 2022. (Photo: Julia Evans)

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What does operating out of water really imply?

We’ve technically already run out of water.

Even although dams are full proper now — the Vaal Dam is at 92% capability — we’ve run out of water that is allowed to be allotted.

“When we say we ran out of water, we mean we have run out of water to allocate, that the demand for the licences for that water exceeds the available supply,” defined Turton. 

In 2002, the technical crew engaged on the first NWRS mentioned that 98% of the complete quantity out there in SA’s 19 water administration areas had already been allotted.

“We’ve given authorisations for water — for paper and pulp mills and oil refineries, etc — they’re all got their allocation of water, and then we’ve  allocated more water than we have available,” mentioned Turton.

He defined that the allocation, referred to as ELU (present lawful use), goes to lawful customers of water as outlined by the National Water Act.

“The sum of those ELU allocations equalled 98% of the known supply, with some water management areas being over-allocated by 120%,” mentioned Turton. 

The first NWRS broke down SA’s water allocation to 62% for agricultural irrigation, 27% for home and concrete necessities, 8% for mining, massive industries and energy era, and three% for industrial forestry plantations.

“The reason why the [Vaal] dam is full is because we’ve got to keep it for the years when we don’t have water — for the dry years,” defined Turton.

“We work on long-term averages and long-term trends. And the long-term trend was we ran out of water in 2002.”

Credit: National Water Resource Strategy 2004

As defined in the first NWRS, the “total water available includes the total local yield plus water transferred from elsewhere”. 

Turton mentioned technical specialists in the water sector had identified about this for 20 years however had been ignored.

Government must step up 

Dr Ferial Adam, supervisor of the civil motion organisation WaterCAN, emphasised at the public assembly on 26 October that the drawback lies in poor planning, failing infrastructure, underspending and sewage air pollution. 

According to the Department of Water and Sanitation’s 2022 Blue Drop Report, 52% of SA’s water provide techniques are in the medium to essential danger teams, 60% don’t adjust to microbiological requirements and 77% don’t adjust to chemical requirements.

The 2022 Green Drop Report labeled about 60% of SA’s wastewater therapy works as being in a “poor to critical” state, and solely 23 out of 995 wastewater techniques certified for Green Drop certification.

At its current media briefing, Rand Water emphasised that South Africa, and Gauteng particularly, has excessive water consumption charges in contrast with the relaxation of the world, and whereas imploring the media to not make it appear that it was blaming customers, inspired a tradition of conservation.

Dr Ferial Adam, supervisor at WaterCAN, talking at a public assembly on the Joburg water disaster at Marks Park Sports Club, Emmarentia, Johannesburg, 28 October 2022. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Read extra in Daily Maverick: “Water crisis? Recent cuts are due to an unstable electrical system, not lack of supply

Rand Water reported that water consumption in South Africa is 233 litres per capita per day, which is comparatively excessive in contrast with the world common of 173 per capita per day. 

And in Gauteng, 305 litres per capita per day is consumed throughout peak demand occasions.

However, Adam mentioned Rand Water had failed to emphasize that this excessive consumption is as a result of of excessive water losses — the final out there Rand Water knowledge signifies that 40% of water is misplaced as a consequence of leakages.

So, out of the 4,900 megalitres that Rand Water provides day by day, nearly 2,000 megalitres are misplaced as a result of of leaking pipes and ageing infrastructure.

Turton agreed that the consumption numbers Rand Water provided had been deceptive — breaking down the numbers as such:

If Rand Water pumps 4,900 million litres to 17 million folks, and 40% is misplaced to water leaks and 10% is allotted to industrial customers, it’s really 160 litres per particular person per day, which is beneath the world common and much beneath the estimated Gauteng consumption.

The 2019 National Water and Sanitation Master Plan reported that municipalities had been dropping about 1,660 million cubic metres of water per 12 months.

As water prices R6 per cubic metre, this quantities to R9.9-billion misplaced yearly.

Adam emphasised that solely 46% of South Africans have a faucet of their residence and the authorities must step up, as a result of we’re “pumping water into an empty bucket”.


Turton mentioned that regardless that it might sound that the state of affairs is dire, there is a answer.

He emphasised that water is an infinitely renewable useful resource, and as a renewable supply. “All we have to do is recycle our total national water resource 1.6 times, and then we won’t have a water crisis any more. In fact, we can then have full employment.”

We must multiply the 38 billion cubic metres which can be out there in the dams by 1.6 to satisfy the upcoming demand of 63 billion cubic metres, which could be finished by recycling the nation’s complete water assets.

However, to do this, we want coverage certainty for the restoration, reuse and recycling of water — and at the second we don’t have that coverage.

Turton mentioned that as a result of we don’t have this coverage, “we don’t have an enabling environment for capital and technology to come into the space”. 

“If we had to have a policy that accepts that water is an infinitely renewable resource, we would see targets being set. And so, for example, if you were to set a target that over the next 20 years we have to recycle our water source 1.6 times, but you start off with a smaller target and then ramp up over time to this bigger target.”

Turton defined that at the second all of our water is handled to South African National Standard (Sans) 241.

“Whether you flush your bathroom with it, whether or not you wash your automobile with it, whether or not you cool down your industrial course of plant with it, whether or not you irrigate your backyard with it, whether or not you drink it, it’s all the identical customary water. 

“Now, that doesn’t make sense,” he mentioned.

So, we want a coverage change, which has to return from the authorities.

Turton added that we will get well water from sewage — SA produces 5 billion litres of sewage day by day — and that water could be recovered, not as consuming water, however recycled again to non-drinking makes use of like cooling down boilers or irrigating public gardens.

Turton mentioned we must also implement a “dual-stream reticulation economy”, which implies having two pipes for each finish consumer — one which provides standardised consuming water and one that gives gray water.

“So, it will be safe to use, but it’s not drinking water. And that’s what you flush your toilet with, that’s what you want to water the garden with,” defined Turton.

Turton emphasised that every one water provided by entities like Rand Water or Umgeni Water is Sans 241 customary, however just one% of that is for consuming.

Turton means that as a substitute, we deal with 1% to the highest customary, however then we deal with the relaxation to a customary that is protected, however not essentially a consuming customary. 

“That’s the direction we should go in,” mentioned Turton. “And, at the moment, there’s just no insight into this possibility by any government leader. They keep on following the same old pattern of just building another dam and just blaming the public.” DM/OBP


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