The Cost Of Our Water Supply

Most of the water used in the southern parts of Tshwane is supplied to us by Rand Water Board.  The last couple of weeks lots of speculation went around regarding the penalties levied via CoT onto us by Rand Water Board to reduce our water demand and usage.

We have in the Witwatersrand lots of gold mines that has closed down.  However, with the closing down of the mines the pumps to prevent these old mines from being filled with water also stopped working.  Some of these pumps have also been removed, others have after the years been damaged beyond repair.  The result is that water began to accumulate in the void and was then discharged into neighbouring mines because of the high degree of connectivity of the mine workings. The neighbouring mines were thus forced to handle the pumping in what they consider a responsible manner.

The mine water being pumped is of a very low quality – polluted with high concentrations of heavy metals and sulphides.  These heavy metals are particular dangerous for human and animal health and can cause diseases such as cancer, kidney failure, mental illness and others.  This is being pumped into tailing dumps and nearby rivers such as Blesbokspruit (via the Suikerbos River), Klip River, and Vaal River.  During wet periods this poses no problem, but it could become critical in a drought situation when water in the upper Vaal system, which should be conserved for Gauteng users, has to be released purely for dilution purposes.

Added to the above scenario is the fact that a considerable amount of municipalities spills their sewage water also into the upper Vaal River.

Since the publication of the first National Water Resource Strategy in 2004, studies were done to develop future water requirement scenarios for each area in close collaboration with the users.  Methods to reduce the demand were investigated, as well as possible further resource development options (which included accounting for the possible impact of climate change), and developed strategies (including integrated water quality management strategies) to ensure continuing supply of water for the next 25 – 30 years into the future.

In 2009 the following strategy was employed:

  • Apply all the necessary resources to eradicate extensive unlawful water use as a matter of priority;
  • Implement water conservation and water demand management measures to reduce losses and reduce the urban demand by at least 15% by 2015;
  • Implement the Vaal River Integrated Water Quality Management Strategy. This has a focus on salinity, eutrophication, microbiological pollution, and institutional challenges;
  • Undertake a feasibility study into the re-use of water, with first priority being water from gold mines;
  • Implement Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project by 2020.

It should be noted that Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project will increase the current supply rate of 780-million cubic metres a year incrementally to more than 1.26-billion cubic metres a year, and be implemented in terms of two distinct components: a water delivery system to augment the delivery of water to South Africa and a hydropower generation system, which will increase the current electricity generation capacity in Lesotho.  However, the date for completion of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project have been shifted in December 2017 from 2020 to 2025.

It should therefore also be noted that with the required 15% demand reduction in water usage the estimated population figures of Gauteng increased from 12,27M in 2011 to 13,4M in 2016 and 14,7M in 2018.  This resembles a population increase of approximately 6% per year, requiring a demand reduction of 25% per household.  Taking also into account the condition of CoT’s water pipe infrastructure onto which the penalties for additional water demand will be levied, we are looking at a realistic demand reduction of 30% per household required.

Many of these mines were closed before 1994.  It is my personal view that the government at that time and the mine houses should have foreseen this before closing of the mines.  These mines were required to finance the military equipment which came with a huge price tag.  The mine houses did not care anymore about the future of our country and its people.  They closed down with minimal costs leaving the burden onto us to carry the costs 25 years later.

At the same time we should also ask what actions the Rand Water Board is taking against the polluting municipalities.  This seem to carry a huge question mark.

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