Nelson Mandela Bay water crisis can be averted

Through collaboration, and with absolute urgency applied to reining in the extent of leaks.
Consumers must also do everything in their power to reduce their water consumption, says the author. Image: S'thembile Cele/Bloomberg

The water crisis facing Nelson Mandela Bay is an emergency and requires urgent intervention and action from all stakeholders.

To label the water shortage facing the area as a drought is not accurate because what we are currently experiencing is a water management crisis.

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While the lack of rain and resultant low dam levels have been a factor contributing to the water crisis, there are a number of other issues that have  exacerbated the situation.

These include the lack of accountability and urgency from municipal leadership in dealing with water issues, budget and procurement bottlenecks, lack of investment and maintenance of infrastructure, qualified engineers no longer being employed by the municipality, and non-revenue water losses amounting to 40% of total supply – of which 29% comprises leaks and 11% commercial losses.

It is vital that all stakeholders pull together to prevent the metro from running out of water.

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We believe this is an avoidable situation as the quota the metro receives via the Nooitgedacht scheme is 209 million litres per day (mld), while 81mld is lost due to leaks and 30.8mld to unauthorised consumption.

Until recently the metro was consuming around 285mld per day, with around 173mld representing actual consumption levels and the balance representing inefficiencies in the system and infrastructure.

While consumers must do everything possible to radically reduce their water consumption levels, in tandem with this absolute urgency needs to be deployed to reining in the extent of leaks.

As a business community, we have members who are prepared to volunteer their expertise and resources to assist with targeting the reduction in leak levels.

Two-pronged approach

It is important that a two-pronged approach is adopted to avoid the taps from running dry:

  • The first must centre on reducing water consumption levels and the severity of leaks, and
  • The second must be of a more medium to long-term nature where infrastructure weaknesses and shortcomings are addressed. This potentially includes replacing the main water pipes where the most leaks are concentrated, upgrading critical Orange River/Fish River/Sundays River scheme infrastructure, which was built in the 1970s, and implementing long-term measures which recognise that we live in a water-scarce area.

Furthermore a concentrated approach to dealing with the lowest hanging fruit should be prioritised such as reducing in-building wastage, addressing leaks and limiting water usage at municipal buildings and facilities, accelerating the adoption of rainwater and stormwater harvesting among businesses and households, and very importantly, dealing with inaccuracies in the water billing system.

Additionally, on-site treatment and reuse of wastewater and/or only greywater particularly for industrial users can be implemented in less than a month and can make a huge impact.

There is approximately 150 million litres per day running through the municipal sewer works, and this wastewater is an asset – but it is sent to the municipality for treatment and is then dumped into the sea!

This could be a key measure in replacing a large quantity of the municipal water utilised every day and even help, in tandem with other alternative water supply initiatives, to ensure that by the end of the year the city can have a water surplus.

We will engage with the Department of Water and Sanitation to ensure that, as organised business, we can provide strategic and practical inputs related to the immediate crisis and also the longer-term priority of ensuring the security of water supply for Nelson Mandela Bay.

Through the chamber’s Adopt A School initiative, businesses have to date adopted 46 schools and clinics with efforts focused on fixing leaks and implementing water-saving and water-harvesting measures.

Denise van Huyssteen is CEO of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.

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