What are plumbers doing about wasting water?

By Andrew “Andy” Camphausen

It is an established fact that although South Africa is a water scarce country, we are not using this valuable resource efficiently. The amount of water used to flush toilets contributes to water wastage. The question we need to raise is, what is the plumbing fraternity doing about this?

The current average municipal cost for water is about R20/m3 (1000ℓ). The average water consumption for a three-bedroomed house in an affluent urban area is 30m3 per month. Water is calculated from 6m3 upwards according to the Free Basic Water Policy, and therefore an average household should pay around R480 for water consumption per month.

Questions to ponder include whether the average tariffs are too high or too low? Are we giving this life-giving natural resource the respect it deserves? What are we doing to protect our natural resource?

Water use in South Africa

Agricultural (including irrigation)


Urban and domestic


Mining and industrial


Source: Nature divided: land degradation in South Africa, A Ashwell and T Hoffman.

Water use in households


Low-income households

Middle- to high-income households




Baths and showers



Washing machines



Other (cooking/washing dishes/drinking, etc.)



Households with gardens





Source: “Water – how is it used at home?” HE Jacobs, LC Geustyn and BF Loubser.

South Africa is the 30th driest country worldwide. Water is critical to sustainable socio-economic development and the eradication of poverty, and should be the core of the ‘green’ economy in the context of sustainable development. Currently, South Africa is using water within its natural supply’s limits and government predictions on water consumption are at 98%.

Government is the biggest waster

Unfortunately, we are not using water efficiently. In addition to what is being stolen or lost, South Africa is losing more than 1.5 billion cubic metres of water annually due to faulty piping infrastructure that has outlived its life. In the recent past, municipalities were using galvanised iron pipes to transport their water. As galvanised iron pipes rust from the inside out, the water is restricted from flowing freely, and with a rising South African population, something has to give in. These buried water lines are becoming commonplace.

The challenge that occurs when the municipality turns off the water is that the pressure drops and some pipes eventually run dry. When the leaking pipe is repaired, a huge amount of dirt and debris enters the pipe and eventually ends up on a terminal fitting, with disastrous results at times. As the water is switched back on, the dry pipe is subjected to a huge amount of initial water pressure, which can damper the integrity of the pipe downstream of the leak and could result in further leaks or breakages of pipes.

As detailed in the tables, the single largest challenge we face in domestic situations is toilets and their contribution to water wastage. What is the plumbing fraternity doing to deal with this?

If this is the water situation at present, what of the future? South Africa can build more dams, desalinate seawater or source water from other countries, but all of these solutions are very expensive. In the current South African economic climate, we simply cannot afford it.

Change in attitude needed

We could tackle the symptoms by cleaning up rivers or imposing fines on those that actively pollute these sources, but is this the answer to the problem?

We should be dealing with the cause of the problem, which starts with our attitude towards water. We can make a difference by respecting water and all life; stopping wastage; using water carefully; preventing pollution of rivers in solid or liquid form; paying for water services; and taking action to solve water challenges.

It is up to all of us. What are you doing?

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