Increased demand and frail infrastructure are blamed for eThekwini Water shortages

The Department of Water and Sanitation and the Auditor-General found that eThekwini Municipality loses more than half the water it buys from uMngeni-uThukela due to leaks and theft of water. File Picture

The Department of Water and Sanitation and the Auditor-General found that eThekwini Municipality loses more than half the water it buys from uMngeni-uThukela due to leaks and theft of water. File Picture

Published Jan 30, 2024


The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), eThekwini Municipality and uMngeni-uThukela Water issued a joint statement detailing that an increased demand, coupled with a frail water network prone to leaks were the reasons behind the water shortages in the city.

Limitations in the amount of raw water the uMngeni-uThukela can abstract from its sources, which are various dams, have also impacted the amount it can supply to its customer, which is the City of Durban.

uMngeni-uThukela is responsible for extracting raw water, processing it to a drinkable state and then selling it to the Municipality, who distributes it to the residents of the city.

The eThekwini Municipality is responsible for the distribution of water via its supply network, the uMngeni Water Supply System (uMWS).

“The amount of water in the uMWS therefore puts a limit on the amount of water that can be supplied to residents in eThekwini.

“Demand for water in eThekwini has grown rapidly, largely due to population growth, and partly due to increasing leaks in the Municipality’s water distribution systems,” the entities said.

To increase raw water supply, the Hazelmere Dam wall was extended at a cost of R820 million to the taxpayer to accommodate more water.

Additionally, the increased supply meant treatment capabilities had to be beefed up, as well, so uMngeni spruced up the Hazelmere Water Treatment Works from processing 55 to 75 megalitres per day, at a cost of R135 million.

Projects at the Umkhomazi Water project will also result in a 55% increase in the amount of available water in the uMngeni Water Supply System.

The project cost R28 billion for the raw water supply component alone.

“The Umkhomazi Water Project consists of an eight-metre high dam at Smithfield on the uMkhomazi River (with gross storage capacity of 251 million m3), a 33km, a 3.5m diameter tunnel from Smithfield dam to the uMlaza River Valley, and a 5.1km, 2.6m diameter gravity bulk pipeline connecting the tunnel to the Baynesfield Water Treatment Plant.

“uMngeni-uThukela Water Board is already exceeding its abstraction limit from the uMWS.

It will only be possible for the water authority to increase its abstraction of water from the uMWS after the Umkhomazi Water Project comes online (projected for 2030),” the statement read.

But the shortage of water in the City of eThekwini largely depends of the amount of water that is lost in the system.

The DWS No Drop report found that non-revenue water in eThekwini increased from 37% in 2013 to 58% in 2023.

Non-revenue water means water that is paid for, but lost in the system due to theft and leaks.

The Auditor-General also found that in the 2021/2022 financial year, eThekwini lost more than half of the water it purchased from uMngeni-uThukela Water.

Effectively, eThekwini lost more water than it distributed, not only resulting in water shortages, but also huge revenue losses for the municipality.

The AG report found that the City purchased 401,527,498 kilolitres of water, but only sold 175,787,719 kilolitres.

The joint statement also indicated that the Municipality needed to address the scourge of non-revenue water.

“in addition to the Umkhomazi Water Project, the shortage of treated water in eThekwini must be addressed by the Municipality by reducing non-revenue water in its water distribution system and by water-users in the Municipality using water more sparingly to reduce the average consumption of water per capita per day,” the three entities said.

The Municipality listed a number of ways it intended on fixing non-revenue water:

Implementing a pipe replacement programme.

Replacing old infrastructure.

Construction of new reservoirs to increase storage capacity.

implementing an active leak detection and repair programme.

installing 108 pressure management valves.

The Municipality is implementing a revenue enhancement programme which includes dysfunctional meter replacements, introducing technology to increase the accuracy of meter readings, and improved billing and debtor management.

It is also embarking on a programme to strengthen its enforcement of by-laws to address the problem of encroachment of informal settlements on pipeline servitudes, to address the problem of illegal connections.

It will also be installing plastic fittings to address the problem of theft of infrastructure that is sold as scrap metal.

The City is finalising procurement for a R1.2 billion project to replace the decommissioned southern aqueduct.