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3 minute read

Reduce water demand and increase supply

South Africa’s water demand continues to grow, and the country may be faced with a deficit of 2.7 to 3.8 billion m 3 /annum between water supply and demand by 2030 – a gap of about 17%. Zama Siqalaba from the WISA 2020 Technical Committee unpacks the theme ‘reduce water demand and increase supply’.

What are the main challenges inthis space?

ZS: South Africa is a semi-arid country, and our water resources are under increasing pressure from overconsumption, inefficient use, wastage, leakage, inappropriate infrastructure choices, inadequate planning and implementation, as well as population and economic growth. Over time, a culture of infrastructure replacement has developed largely due to neglect and inadequate infrastructure operation and maintenance.

The impact of this is felt acutely at the local municipality level, where access to clean safe drinking water remains a challenge. Municipalities lose 1 660 million m³ per year through non-revenue water (NRW) – representing 41% of supply. It is vital that we optimise our existing water resources. Without this, any augmentation is a waste. We still do not have the basics right – sectorising systems, maintaining infrastructure, managing pressure and bulk metering. The low-hanging fruit are still there and there are very few municipalities that have managed to reduce their NRW to below 20% or manage NRW within acceptable levels for the applicable municipal category.

Effectively managing water infrastructure and water-user efficiency requires a consistent and concerted effort at all levels of government, but unfortunately water conservation and water demand management (WC/ WDM) and NRW management are not considered ‘enticing’ and often don’t get the focus they deserve. The main drive behind increasing water supply is to extend the supply footprint.

But if we build new infrastructure without a coherent plan on how to manage it, we end up increasing capex for water year-on-year without the desired impact. Essentially, if we are not funding beneficial use, we are funding wastage.

Is this getting sufficient attention?

The various role players, from national to local government, are aware of the problem and things like NRW and WC/ WDM are well documented. We have all the institutional tools we need; the real challenge is prioritisation.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost beneficial programmes like Blue Drop and No Drop, which were internationally recognised and supported. There is no national campaign to drive water use efficiency and promote conservation, which is what is needed to achieve results. There is a growing discourse around creating new institutional models to develop water use efficiencies.

While these discussions are important in driving future infrastructure funding and aspects of NRW management, the sector is not impeded in moving forward and implementing the requisite programmes and strategies long documented to reduce water losses and improve service delivery. Our immediate challenge is not developing new institutions in the water sector but rather to use the existing frameworks to do what we have spoken about for years: manage our water supply; recycle water resources where we can; take advantage of the tools, technology and innovation that we have in abundance; and use water efficiently.

Where do we begin to address the problems?

Addressing the current challenges we face in the management of NRW, reducing water demand and increasing supply will require all relevant institutions to commit to carrying out the ‘game plan’. Most municipalities have, through previous No Drop, MuSSA, and benchmarking assessments, developed coherent strategies around the efficient management of their water systems – we simply need to implement them.

We need to get the basics right. At the water services authority level, we need to:

1. Know what we are managing – how much water is supplied by the bulk provider, how much is going into the distribution system, and how much is being lost.

2. Identify the main areas of water loss and the causes.

3. Determine the tools and expertise required to address NRW.

4. Ensure that the revenue can be recovered to guarantee the sustainability of services.

Ultimately, if we can address the basic management issues to support beneficial and productive water use, municipalities and the sector as a whole can truly progress in the implementation of the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan to support socioeconomic development. The decision to support infrastructure expansion should be based on a real need once options for optimal use of current resources have been exhausted.

The spirit of WISA 2020 is all about ‘DOING’ – #AllHandsOnDeck for real implementation. Our wish for the future is for the sector to move from analysis and strategy fatigue on to a platform of achieving the desired results, which are to reduce demand and increase water supply.