The possibility of nationwide water-shedding

There are fresh warnings today about the possibility of nationwide water-shedding caused by infrastructure neglect and the natural resources available in South Africa.

Engineering consulting firm Gibb held a roundtable today about the water situation in the country, looking at both the problem and the required solutions.

The firm’s Wiero Vogelzang says, “Water-shedding is a reality that we’re going to have to accept at some stage. The level of it is going to be different in different areas.”

While load-shedding continues, there is an even more worrying prospect ahead: water-shedding. Like the energy crisis, the abysmal state of water in SA is a combination of at least three factors: resource depletion (and contamination), growing demand and inefficient infrastructure.

Rainfall levels are dropping quickly due to climate change. A recent study published by the World Economic Forum says droughts this century will become more recurrent and severe than in the previous millennium. Over the summer holidays, for instance, eThekwini municipality took the unprecedented decision of asking residents and holiday makers to drastically reduce water consumption to avoid systemic cutbacks, given that the Hazelmere Dam had reached dramatically low levels because of prolonged drought.

SA is already using 98% of its available water supply and 40% of our waste-water treatment is in a “critical state”. Moreover, a survey conducted by the department in 2010 indicates that 60% of the country’s water service authorities do not have the right permits for their treatment works. A recent government report suggests the state should spend almost R300bn over the next four years to avoid a full-scale water crisis, which is roughly more than 100 times the budget allocated by the Treasury to water management nationwide.

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