Stark ev­i­dence of SA’s wa­ter cri­sis

A mind-shift to­wards wa­ter con­ser­va­tion will ben­e­fit the en­vi­ron­ment and avoid tar­iff hikes, writes Anna-Marie Smith

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

GLOBAL and lo­cal ef­forts to cre­ate greater aware­ness of wa­ter con­ser­va­tion were epit­o­mised in last month’s World Wa­ter Day by the Depart­ment of Wa­ter Af­fairs’ theme, wa­ter is life: work­ing to­gether we can save more wa­ter”.

Min­is­ter of Wa­ter and En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs Edna Molewa last month called on all South Africans to en­gage in the long term preser­va­tion of wa­ter.

Trevor Balzer, Wa­ter Af­fairs acting di­rec­tor-gen­eral, said SA’s cheap wa­ter re­sources have been ex­hausted and the gov­ern­ment is ad­dress­ing the prob­lem.

“We are un­der­tak­ing a study to es­tab­lish the cost of wa­ter in the fu­ture. There is no doubt that wa­ter will be more ex­pen­sive.”

SA’s av­er­age an­nual rain­fall of 450mm com­pares poorly with global rain­fall av­er­ages of 870mm, mak­ing SA the world's 30th dri­est coun­try. Low rain­fall pat­terns in the Cape prov­ince, specif­i­cally the Ka­roo and the East­ern and South­ern Cape re­gions, cou­pled with warn­ings by lo­cal wa­ter ex­perts that wa­ter tar­iff in­creases are in­evitable, should mo­ti­vate con­sumers to im­ple­ment wa­ter-sav­ing mech­a­nisms.

This is high­lighted by the plight of Ka­roo res­i­dents, specif­i­cally in Beau­fort West, who for the past three to four years have seen lit­tle heavy rain­fall over wide ar­eas.

In­stead, the con­se­quences of ex­cep­tion­ally low and scat­tered rain­fall pat­terns in­cluded to­tal de­ple­tion of dam wa­ter by midDe­cem­ber and bore­holes drop­ping by 30m in just a month.

Re­fer­ring to the emer­gency ser­vices dur­ing the past fes­tive sea­son, Louw Smit, di­rec­tor en­gi­neer­ing ser­vices of the Beau­fort West mu­nic­i­pal­ity, says the town was solely re­liant on dam wa­ter and ground wa­ter from bore­holes, as well as do­na­tions of wa­ter in tankers and bot­tles.

He says the com­mu­nity was re­stricted to 12 kilo­litres of wa­ter a house­hold a month, and a ro­tat­ing wa­ter-shed­ding sys­tem was im­ple­mented whereby 20% of the town re­lin­quished its wa­ter sup­ply for 36 hours. Tankers were brought in to sup­ply house­holds with wash wa­ter and five litres of drink­ing wa­ter a day, and wash­ing ve­hi­cles and ir­ri­gat­ing gar­dens was pro­hib­ited.

Smit says the so­lu­tion to their prob­lem was in the long-term plan­ning of the town’s new wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion plant com­ing to fruition at the most cru­cial time.

The sys­tem, through so­phis­ti­cated tech­nol­ogy, pu­ri­fies sew­er­age ef­flu­ent pre­vi­ously dumped in rivers into healthy potable wa­ter and can pro­vide the town with a me­gal­itre of wa­ter a day.

Smit says to­gether with a new aquafier de­vel­oped in De­cem­ber that pro­vides 1,3 me­gal­itres a day, the town’s to­tal need of 3,5 mega litres a day was met by 65%.

“Beau­fort West’s sur­vival dur­ing this chal­leng­ing pe­riod co­in­cided with the lo­cal wa­ter ser­vice authorities not plac­ing all their eggs in one bas­ket but plan­ning al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tions to com­ple­ment the dam rain catch­ment, such as the pu­rifi­ca­tion sys­tem for re­cy­cled wa­ter and de­vel­op­ing nat­u­ral aquafiers.”

Pam Gold­ing agent Ian Tay­lor, says the on­go­ing drought had a marked ef­fect on the prop­erty in­dus­try in the town, with a notable re­duc­tion in the num­ber of fam­i­lies re­lo­cat­ing to the Ka­roo.

He says al­though the re­cent rain­fall has brought enor­mous re­lief, with dams fill­ing up to 20% ca­pac­ity from zero in De­cem­ber as well as the de­vel­op­ment of sev­eral strong un­der­ground wa­ter sources, res­i­dents have con­verted to in­dige­nous wa­ter-wise gar­dens and the man­ual re­cy­cling of do­mes­tic grey wa­ter.

Tay­lor says such a wa­ter-scarce life­style should trans­late into the daily prac­tice of catch­ing shower wa­ter in basins, re-us­ing do­mes­tic wa­ter for flush­ing toi­lets and wa­ter­ing gar­dens. Au­to­matic grey-wa­ter re­cy­cling sys­tems are not in com­mon use yet.

Grey wa­ter can be led into tanks where, if air is pumped into the wa­ter it will pro­vide good qual­ity aer­ated wa­ter for gar­den­ing. Long-term stor­age of grey wa­ter is not ideal and phos­phate-free wash­ing powders are rec­om­mended for this pur­pose to avoid soil dam­age over long pe­ri­ods.

Catch­ing rain­wa­ter in do­mes­tic tanks will re­sult in a marked re­duc­tion in mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter us­age. Non­potable uses of har­vested rain­wa­ter in ur­ban ar­eas at house­hold level in­clude show­ers, baths, basins, flush­ing toi­lets and wash­ing laun­dry. If re­quired for drink­ing, rain­wa­ter should be treated to elim­i­nate any pos­si­ble con­tam­i­nants.

An­other ma­jor wa­ter sav­ing can re­sult from the in­stal­la­tion of wa­ter-sav­ing shower heads, re­duc­ing the av­er­age show­er­head flow of up to 20 litres a minute to 7,6 litres a minute, a sav­ing of more than 60%. If pool cov­ers are in­stalled over SA’s es­ti­mated 1mil­lion swim­ming pools sev­eral mil­lions of litres of top-up and evap­o­rated wa­ter can be saved.


The Gamka Dam once sup­plied Beau­fort West with wa­ter, but since the last rains fell in its catch­ment area in 2008 it has be­come a bar­ren dust bowl. An emer­gency grant to pump un­der­ground wa­ter stored be­neath the cracked sur­face of­fered only tem­po­rary re­lief as the sup­ply did not last long.

SIGHT FOR SORE EYES: Bonkolo Dam near Queen­stown in the East­ern Cape.

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