In 2013 we published an article on our website “Is "water shedding" the next load shedding ?" By closely following the news people would have will noticed that it is starting to happen and water supply problems have become part of everyday life.
There are number major contributing factors that lead to these problems
- Lack of spending on infrastructure - The problem in South Africa is not unique. Democracy and the drive by politicians to secure votes have directed much needed infrastructure resources to short term social spending to keep voters happy. The result have been significant under spending on infrastructure – especially on items that are not visible to the common man on the street – underground water pipes, sewerage plants and other water supply and waste infrastructure. It has created a major backlog. The backlog is so great that even if money is correctly allocated to the spending of water infrastructure – it will take 20 years just to catch up.
- Technical skills shortages and the appointment of poorly skilled and ill qualified persons to oversee the general day to day maintenance and running of our water infrastructure. Salary and wages as a portion of the infrastructure maintenance budget has become bloated resulting in reduced spending on repairs and maintenance items. Initially the problem did not show but over time there has been noticeable decline in engineering and quality standards of infrastructure maintenance. Backup systems are not maintained to cut costs and repairs are not done in time or are of substandard.
- Power and water supply form an integrated supply system. If the power grid fails reservoirs run empty resulting in water supply problems. Sewerage treatment plant stop working dumping untreated sewerage in the very water systems where we get our drinking water from . The problem gets worse if the backup infrastructures like generators and pumps are not maintained
- The increase in population and concentration in metropolitan areas coupled with the promise of free basic services has put enormous strain on the major water supply networks. Major water supply pipes are pumping water at maximum capacity to service their users.
- Variability in weather patterns as we already experience will change the way water is recovered and stored for use – putting even greater pressure on existing supply.
- The recent drought over big parts of Southern Africa.
Big parts of Johannesburg has gone without water as a direct result of the above listed problems. It is clear that these problems will only get worse before they get better.
These problems require users to take a complete different view of water as a resource. Users must take greater ownership in the collection, treatment and use of water. It requires a different way of thinking.
The first is to focus on reducing water consumption by adopting various ways to save water and re-use waste water. Secondly every user should have some form of backup capacity to at least be able to supply the household or business with water for a period of time should there be a water interruption. Lastly is the option the recovery and treatment of water from alternative sources. This can be rainwater harvesting and or storm water recovery. Groundwater is an option, but it must be coupled with plans to replenish groundwater otherwise it is not a sustainable water resource.
It is always best to start with the simple and easy things. Make use of the experts as they have detailed knowledge and can prevent you from making costly mistakes. The bottom line – as a user you would have to start investing in water and preparing for scenarios knowing the that the reliability of our water supply system is in decline.