Money down the drain

Martin Czernowalow

More than R6‑billion of water is lost or unaccounted for per year in South Africa, at a time when the country faces a serious water crisis.

Startling water wastage figures have been revealed by the recently released 2015 No Drop Report, subtitled Benchmarking of water loss, water use efficiency and non-revenue water in South African municipalities (2004/05 to 2012/13).

Funded by the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN) — a non-profit organisation geared towards collaborative action between the private- and public water sector role players — the report provides an overview of the status of municipalities as it pertains to their water losses, non-revenue water and water use efficiency, based on the 2012/13 financial year.

The study found that a total volume of 1.038 billion kilolitres of water per year is lost as non‑revenue water (NRW), which — calculated at a unit cost of R6/kℓ — amounts to R6.228-billion per year for the country as a whole. This translates into close to 35% of South Africa’s water being lost or unaccounted for every year.

According to the findings, the national water balance for the 2012/13 audit year shows a total system input volume (SIV) of 2.997 billion kilolitres per year (kℓ/y), of which 2.168 billion kℓ/y (72.4%) is authorised consumption, and 828 million kℓ/y (27.6%) are water losses. Water losses are made up of 165.32 million kℓ/y (20%) apparent losses and 663.29 million kℓ/y (80%) real losses, which result in a NRW of 1.038 billion kℓ/y (34.6%).

“By implementing WCWDM [water conservation and water demand management] projects, a potential saving of 331.65 million kℓ/y can be achieved, which translate to R1.989‑billion a year. Savings in excess of R3‑billion can be projected if the water balances of all 152 water services authorities are considered. The potential savings that can be realised by investing in WCWDM in Category A and B1 municipalities is 84% of the national savings potential,” the report says, adding that water use efficiency is typically one of the country’s key performance indicators and reported at national government level.

Average performer

Based on verified evidence and datasets, the 2015 No Drop Report concluded that all 152 water services authorities participated in the No Drop assessment. Datasets were received for 71 water services authorities, representing a total population of 32 580 710 and 9 043 534 households, which is approximately 62% of the country’s total population. These households are supplied by means of a total mains network of 121 449km and 5 382 613 connections, with an average of 44 connections per kilometre pipeline. A total of 4 712 677 (87.6%) of all connections are metered and 669 936 (12.4%) are unmetered. The average system pressure is 45m, ranging between 52m and 36m reported by the various municipalities.

A total of 949 water supply systems have been assessed. In total, 30% of the water supply systems obtained a more than 50% No Drop score, with the balance attaining a less than 50% score. An overall national No Drop score of 56.5% was achieved for South Africa, which falls within the No Drop category of ‘Average Performance’.

However, the report says that this (weighted) national score bodes well for the future of WCWDM in the country, given that it is a first time assessment and steep learning curve for the municipalities. The higher score is positively influenced by the good scores obtained by the metropolitan municipalities and some of the municipalities with larger capacity systems.

Up to 51% of the 152 water services authorities have proper or partial WCWDM strategies and plans in place, and are busy with some form of implementation in the field. Coupled with 38–40% of water service authorities having proper or partial water balances in place, a potential of R3‑billion saving per year makes this a strong case to focus on improvement in the quality of planning, and the intensity and acceleration of implementation, says the report.

“Of concern is that 62% of water service authorities do not have WCWDM contained within their IDPs [infrastructure development plans]. This is a fundamental requirement to ensure that projects are rolled out in the field,” the report states.

“Until we have adequately dealt with the inefficiencies, wastage and improper management of our water systems; augmentation simply makes more water available for further wastage and losses.”

Big challenges

SWPN programme manager Zama Siqalaba has bemoaned the country’s annual water losses, saying that in addition to inefficiencies in water management at municipal level, South Africa faces other big challenges.

These include acid mine drainage and mine-impacted water, as well as aging and dilapidated infrastructure in both the municipal and agricultural water use sectors; poor maintenance and operation of water supply networks; wastage of water by citizens; and unsustainable systems and processes, such as the use of potable water for water‑borne sanitation systems, which to a large extent are the most acceptable forms of sanitation in the country.

Siqalaba points out that South Africa is not short of ideas when it comes to water resources management, but says the country is left lacking when it comes to executing strategies and putting systematic measures in place to consistently manage existing water resources. However, she is hesitant to criticise government’s approach to South Africa’s water crisis, saying although it is sometimes imperfect in its approach, government should be applauded this time for vigorously attempting to forge partnerships with other sectors and getting all hands on deck to address the water shortages.

“The situation has seen the acceleration of much needed infrastructure developments particularly in KwaZulu-Natal which was initially worst hit by the drought. These developments are critical in improving water security; however, caution must be exercised in ensuring that the tendency towards costly water augmentation is well substantiated.

“In the past and in the present, Government has not made proper provision and put in place measures to use optimally what is already available. Until we have adequately dealt with the inefficiencies, wastage and improper management of our water systems; augmentation simply makes more water available for further wastage and losses,” she argues.

Skills development

Siqalaba says that in addition to infrastructure development, government needs to put in place plans and budgets to maintain that infrastructure, as well as facilitate the transfer and the development of skills to operate the systems appropriately.

Meanwhile, at a time when South Africa has announced a controversial partnership with Iran to build desalination plants in this country, Siqalaba warns against rushing into the building of sophisticated and high-resource demanding solutions. She argues that these should be carefully considered and investigated for context suitability and long‑term management implications.

“This goes for any other systems and technologies applied at this time. South Africa is a world leader in the development of policies and legislation to govern water management. What has in part landed us in the current dire situation is the inability to enforce compliance, monitor and regulate the sector. This area needs much improvement if we are never to sit in the same situation again,” she says.

Meanwhile, in response to the No Drop Report’s findings, Water and Sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane announced that government would invest some R3‑billion to train artisans (such as plumbers), to stop the millions of litres of water being wasted every year. About 15 000 students are expected to benefit from the initiative.

Mokonyane, visiting Colliery Training College in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga, said what is important is that South Africa stops the nearly R7‑billion per year water loss that it is experiencing now.

The purpose of her visit was to check on the progress of the 3 000 students who had already started the programme. Another 7 000 trainees would be enrolled in the second phase, and a further 5 000 in the third phase. Each trainee would get their own set of tools and one‑on‑one mentoring, so they could play a major role in reducing leaks and saving the country both water and money, Mokonyane stated.

<pull-quote> “Savings in excess of R3‑billion can be projected if the water balances of all 152 water services authorities are considered. The potential savings that can be realised by investing in WCWDM in Category A and B1 municipalities is 84% of the national savings potential.”

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