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
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.