Water use efficiency remains key to meeting Gauteng’s water demand

Chief Executive of Rand Water: Sipho Mosai

Chief Executive of Rand Water: Sipho Mosai

Published Feb 17, 2024


Opinion piece by Sipho Mosai - Chief Executive of Rand Water

Gauteng’s water supply and demand requirements need to be carefully managed in Province’s water scare and financially distressed municipal environment. The debate about water sufficiency cannot be isolated to a water quantity dialogue outside the affordability of a good that is not only a social but economic one. The complexities of water provision must be fully understood in toto beyond an unbalance noise of “just pump more water into the system” to include how water provided is efficiently utilised. To narrow and overly simplify it as a one-dimensional water quantity science is unsustainable and can only serve to collapse the water supply system and annihilate the value chain, particularly Rand Water, resulting in the never seen before water catastrophe in Gauteng and parts of Mpumalanga, North West and Free State Provinces.

What we must first understand is that South Africa is a water stressed country. South Africa’s mean annual rainfall is estimated at 492 mm (millimetres) against the world average of 985 mm. To make matters worse, rainfall distribution in the country is uneven with the western part of the country receiving over 1 000 mm of rainfall and the eastern receiving no more than 250 mm of rainfall.

Gauteng only receives between 500-1 000mm. This rainfall is not sufficient to meet the water use needs of Gauteng for the irrigation, environmental, domestic, mining, and industrial uses if this rainfall was to be dammed in the Province.

To rub salt into the wound, the Gauteng region is also in the receiving end of the El Nino state the country now finds itself. According to the South Africa Weather Services (SAWS) Climate Watch Report issued on the 31st of October 2023 for the period November to March 2024, this state is expected to persist through most of the summer months.

The SAWS multi-model rainfall forecast indicates below -normal rainfall for the north-east of the country during Nov-Dec-Jan, Dec-Jan-Feb and Jan-Feb-Mar with below normal rainfall predicted for the central and south-western parts of the country. Minimum and maximum temperatures are also expected to be mostly above-normal countrywide for the forecast period.

For Rand Water and Gauteng this in turn means higher than normal water consumption with excessive water consumption.

To meet the water demand in its area of operation, Rand Water has over the years starting as way back at 1903 started the exploitation water resources firstly beginning with groundwater development and as the Witwatersrand demand for water started exceeding the supply, Rand Water started exploiting surface water with the building of Vaal dam with then Department of irrigation in 1955.

Progressively over time many dams were built in the country including Lesotho's Mohale and Katse dams as the demand for water exponentially grew. The number of these dams have increased over time to several dams that feed into the Vaal dam from which Rand Water abstracts raw water. These dams together with the rivers that feed them form a system that is called the Integrated Vaal River System. It's a river system made up of 14 dams located in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Free State, KZN, Northern Cape and Lesotho. It is reported that the system supplies water to 46% of the country's economy and 33% of the population.

Rand Water has since those early ages been closely monitoring water demands of water users in its area of operations and contributing to the water resource reconciliation studies that advises the now Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) when to build the dams to meet the future water requirements. Subsequently, Rand Water then expands its bulk water infrastructure to meet future water requirements. Rand Water's demand forecasting is mainly made up of:

1. Customer water demands. This forecasting is based on demand forecasts from major customers (municipalities) per meter connection at 5-year intervals. Included in this forecasting is planned municipal developments.

2. Population forecasting. Rand Water obtains estimates of population growth from Statistics South Africa and various institutions because the water demand growth is closely related to population growth.

Intrinsically, Rand Water looks at factors affecting demand growth, utilises population demographic model and questionnaire model to major customers.

Following the acquisition of the water demand forecasts, Rand Water imposes this demand into its asset life cycle management model for the planning and design of infrastructure augmentation project to meet future water requirements by its customers. This model not only assist with infrastructure planning but also ensure that Rand Water operates and maintains its infrastructure fleet so that the assets achieve their original design or estimated useful life.

The identified projects are given effect by the Infrastructure Development Plan that highlights projects that must be implemented in the medium-term future. Rand Water plans for the a 20yr. Rand Water in 2023, because of its long-term planning discipline, launched two flagship projects namely:

Vlakfontein Reservoir No. 3. The project was about the construction of a 210ML post-tensioned concrete reservoir with associated inlet works, outlet chambers and scour chambers. It is the largest post-tensioned reservoir in the world at 210ML. The construction of the project started in May 2020 and was completed in February 2023. The reservoir supplies Tshwane (Pretoria East), Ekurhuleni, Govan Mbeki, Victor Khanye, Thembisile Hani and Lesedi Municipalities.

Completed 210ML Vlakfontein Reservoir No.3 in Ekurhuleni

Zuikerbosch System 5A. The second flagship project is the Zuikerbosch System 5A water purification works. The project’s main objective is to provide an additional 1 200 Million Liters per Day (ML/Day) of potable water to the current supply capacity of Rand Water. Construction of the scheme commenced in 2015 and the project is already adding an additional water supply of 150 (ML/Day) into the system from August 2023.

Zuikerbosch System 5A

These augmentation projects have since enabled Rand Water to supply water that far exceeds our customers water demands that usually grows year-on-year by 1.2%. The graph herein below clearly demonstrates that Rand Water has been growing and increasing bulk potable water supply to municipalities. In 2023, relative to 2022, the water supply variance as a percentage from planned volumes grew by 6.1 %. In volume terms, Rand Water on average supplied 4 520 ML/D relative with planned water supply demand of 4 262 ML/D. This consumption was approximately 1.5% more than 4 444 ML/D potable water supplied in 2022. Rand Water has for the last three year been increasing water provision year-on-year exponentially for the last five years depicted by the linear dotted graph in Figure 1 herein below.

Quarter (Q) on quarter from the first quarter of 2023, variance from planned water volumes supplied has increased by 4,2%, 7,5% and 7.4% in Q2, Q3 and Q4, respectively. In effect, Rand Water has been pumping more water into the system than planned water demand.

Financial Impact

The increased water supply to municipalities beyond the budgeted water requirements have had unintended financial distress to municipalities and accounts receivable burden on Rand Water’s finances. The Rand Water debtors’ days have at the same period of increased water supply further deteriorated. Most municipalities are struggling to pay their water bills to Rand Water on time and some have completely stopped.

Rand Water debtors from the Financial Year (FY) 2019 to 2023

In 2019 Rand Water debtors’ days were sitting at 56 days but by end of the financial year in 2023 the debtors’ days had gown to a whopping 109 days demonstrating a sheer financial distress by municipalities. Despite many packages Rand Water made available to the municipalities, the municipalities still struggle with their water bill payment. Some of the interventions included the extended payment period and interest holidays.

It is evident from the above that increased water volume in a high-water loss environment is not helpful to the municipalities and pumping more water into such a system will not only harm municipalities with high debt but also cause Rand Water financial distress and extinction in the long run. Insisting on Rand Water to pump more water into the system is potentially detrimental to the largest water utility in the country.

Physical water loses

According to the No Drop report published by the Department of Water and Sanitation in November 2023, the estimated System Input Volume for Gauteng province is 1 500 000 000 m3/annum and Non-Revenue Water (NRW) is 637 100 000 m3/annum (42.4%) which is above the international norm of 15%.

Gauteng Non-Revenue Water

The major contributor to NRW is largely composed of physical losses (33%). This is due to, amongst the others, pipe leaks/burst and reservoir overflows. The leak repair performance of municipalities ranged from poor to critical as outlined by the No drop Report. The report also points out that the Gauteng liters per person pay day water consumption is 279 against the international average of 173 liters per person per day owing to high municipal high non-revenue water.

In 2023 the Rand Water, that provides wholesale water in bulk to municipalities, peak water supply at the end of the financial year was 5 200ML/D. The 33% physical water loses translates to the total physical water losses of 1 7billion Liters of water a day when Rand Water’s supplies at peak. Put differently this is an equivalent 850 000 000 2L water bottles a day.

The Solution

To demand of Rand Water to simply add more water in the system at all costs without understanding that Rand Water business model of purchasing raw water from DWS purifying it at a net operating cost of R16 billion per annum without any national fiscus support and appropriate cash backed revenue is irresponsible and at best reckless. It is a call for the total distraction and complete annihilation of the water supply value chain that provides an estimated 18 million water consumers dependent on bulk water from Rand Water. To demand for Rand Water to add water into a water leaking system and try to silence it from demanding it be paid in time to cover its raw water, chemical, labour and electricity costs is an unfortunate, ill-informed unhelpful expediency with short term focus completely lacking oversight. It simply flies in the face of basic science.

The solution water supply challenges in Gauteng still lies with the water use efficiency. This is a matter that is not completely new to the water supply sector and has been at the fore since the advent of the first addition of National Water Resources Strategy in 2004. The national water resource strategy is the country’s blueprint that provides the framework for the protection, use, development, conservation, management, and control of water resources for the country. The strategy makes it clear that “we have enough water to meet our nation’s needs for the foreseeable future. But we need to use that water sparingly, and we must reduce and avoid pollution”. It further emphasises that “We are not on the point of running out of water, but we have to use our limited water supplies more efficiently and effectively”.

The second edition in 2012 also indicated that Water Conservation and Demand Management (WC/WDM) is the foremost reconciliation strategy to balance water supply and demand. WC/WDM targets must be met in several priority water supply systems to reduce demand and thus ‘stretch’ the available water resources up to the date when the new augmentation projects will be implemented. If this is not achieved, earlier and more severe water restriction will have to be implemented when droughts are experienced. The report suggested that a dedicated national programme is required to deal with water wastage and losses, which will have additional job creation and small business development benefits. The strategy proposed that specific actions and targets be set different water use sectors, which include:

  • Implement effective water metering and monitoring system,
  • Set and implement realistic targets for water use reduction,
  • Development of incentive schemes,
  • Implement targeted regulation and ensure effective control,
  • Obtain sector commitments,
  • Focus on improved technology,
  • Improve associated water management, especially in priority risk areas,
  • Support effective water use for productive purposes in rural and peri-urban communities.

The third edition of the NWRS dated November 2021 emphasizes the same. It emphasizes the water demand management to ensure efficient use of water by all sectors through the implementation of appropriate water conservation and water demand management measures to meet the social and economic needs of South Africa both now and in the future. Furthermore, the report indicates that where water is used efficiently, WC/WDM could postpone the need for capital infrastructure such as dams and bulk treatment works. The resources, scope of work and prioritisation of WC/WDM activities should be determined through an integrated planning process.

The latest No Drop report further underscores that Gauteng solution lies with the invest in Water Conservation and Water Demand Managements. According to DWS there is the is an insufficient investment in Operation and Maintenance (O&M), resulting in operational inefficiencies of the infrastructure leading into massive water losses. The lack of O&M has resulted in the rapid deterioration of the condition and performance of the infrastructure. There are a few interventions that can immediately be affected to set the WC/WDM interventions on the way. These include:

  • Enforcement of By-Laws such as tackling unwise water usage,
  • Appointment of panel of service providers to fix leaks on an urgent basis,
  • Implement Pressure Reducing Valves to manage night flows,
  • Restriction of high consumption meters.

The above must be supported by repurposed institutional arrangements wherein water and sanitation revenue is ring-fenced so that infrastructure investments could be made into the sector enabling sufficient budget to implement water conservation and demand management measures.