CityPress - - Business - MOY­AGABO MAAKE moy­agabo.maake@city­press.co.za Graph­ics24

Con­tin­u­ous re­struc­tur­ing at the depart­ment of wa­ter af­fairs and san­i­ta­tion could see the wa­ter cri­sis that hit Gaut­eng re­oc­cur­ring, a wa­ter ex­pert warned this week. An­thony Tur­ton, a wa­ter ex­pert pre­vi­ously with the CSIR, said the wa­ter sys­tem had been un­der­mined by re­struc­tur­ing at the gov­ern­ment depart­ment deal­ing with wa­ter af­fairs since 1994.

Un­til re­cently, it was called the depart­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal and wa­ter af­fairs, then split into the depart­ment of wa­ter af­fairs, and now it is be­ing re­struc­tured to in­cor­po­rate a new san­i­ta­tion arm.

“The way to stop is to ac­cept that re­struc­tur­ing is not the best rem­edy to in­sti­tu­tional dys­func­tion,” he said. “What we have is what we need to build a bet­ter fu­ture on, and no new re­struc­tur­ing will make the de­liv­ery of ser­vices any bet­ter.”

De­part­men­tal spokesper­son Sput­nik Ratau did not re­spond to ques­tions about the re­struc­tur­ing, but blamed eco­nomic crime for the wa­ter short­ages.

Rand Wa­ter chair­per­son Mat­shidiso Hashatse said the util­ity, which is re­spon­si­ble for the pro­vi­sion of wa­ter to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in Gaut­eng along with other cus­tomers mak­ing up less than 5% of its client base, re­alised it had a prob­lem on its hands when mul­ti­ple power fail­ures hit its sys­tems in a two-week pe­riod.

The rea­son it was able to pre­vi­ously sur­vive load shed­ding with­out wa­ter short­ages was be­cause it has a “pre­mium ac­count” with Eskom.

“Power to Rand Wa­ter was never cut off for more than four hours,” Hashatse told City Press, be­cause Rand Wa­ter’s 24-hour sup­plies of wa­ter would take up the slack.

“The thing is, we had ar­range­ments with Eskom, but there is noth­ing they can do if ca­bles just go.”

This caused a power fail­ure – prompt­ing Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion Min­is­ter Nomvula Mokonyane to blame the cri­sis on eco­nomic crime. The other power fail­ures were caused by a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors.

“The wa­ter chal­lenges just ex­pe­ri­enced in Gaut­eng are due to van­dal­ism and crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity im­pact­ing on ser­vice pro­vi­sion,” said Ratau. But Tur­ton said it was not an eco­nomic crime, but a fail­ure of “soft in­fra­struc­ture”.

He said: “All crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture like wa­ter and en­ergy con­sists of two com­po­nents. Hard in­fra­struc­ture is the ac­tual pumps, pipes and reser­voirs; soft in­fra­struc­ture is the sub­sys­tem that con­nects the flow of data be­tween crit­i­cal com­po­nents of the big­ger sys­tem.

“Re­struc­tur­ing, for what­ever rea­son it was ini­ti­ated, al­ways re­sults in a shock to the sys­tem,” said Tur­ton.

“The cu­mu­la­tive shocks have re­sulted in in­sti­tu­tional in­sta­bil­ity and dys­func­tion.”

Hashatse in­sists the flow of data is in­tact as the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents com­mu­ni­cate with each other. “On the en­ergy side, we are the clients. The wa­teren­ergy nexus is very im­por­tant. The min­is­ter spoke the last time we had a press con­fer­ence about the need to im­prove on com­mu­ni­ca­tion – it does not mean there is none, just that we need to im­prove as we are de­pen­dent on each other,” she said.

So why didn’t Rand Wa­ter have gen­er­a­tors to take over when the power util­i­ties failed?

“We have been in­ves­ti­gat­ing the is­sue of al­ter­nate power even be­fore the cri­sis,” Hashatse said, adding that her util­ity pumps about 4 000 me­gal­itres of wa­ter a day. The largest gen­er­a­tor it could find has the ca­pac­ity to

The cu­mu­la­tive shocks have re­sulted in in­sti­tu­tional in­sta­bil­ity and dys­func­tion


pump 200 me­gal­itres, or 5% of Rand Wa­ter’s daily pro­duc­tion. It cost R100 mil­lion.

“The cost is pro­hib­i­tive,” said Hashatse. “It might be an al­ter­na­tive for a small-scale prob­lem.”

Rand Wa­ter’s business was to pro­vide wa­ter, and con­stant trade-offs had to be made be­tween how much of its re­sources are used for wa­ter sup­ply, and how much was used for the in­put costs of pro­vid­ing that wa­ter.

The paras­tatal’s board had been ex­plor­ing op­tions, in­clud­ing hy­dro­elec­tric­ity, for backup power since last year, Hashatse said.

But th­ese needed ap­proval as it was not op­er­at­ing on its own as a state en­tity.

The cri­sis is not over yet – Hashatse said it would be fully re­solved once high-ly­ing ar­eas in Mo­gale City had their wa­ter sup­plies re­stored – but she would like to see the in­te­grated man­ner in which Rand Wa­ter, the depart­ment of wa­ter af­fairs and san­i­ta­tion, and the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are work­ing to­gether to re­solve the cri­sis con­tin­u­ing.

“The depart­ment is the best one to ask what’s next,” says Hashatse. “From our side, we’re happy we’re sup­ply­ing cus­tomers.

“I think if we con­tinue work­ing in an im­proved, in­te­grated, com­pre­hen­sive man­ner – I can’t say it won’t hap­pen again be­cause of cable theft – but it can be mit­i­gated in fu­ture.”

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