When no water is good news and less water is even better

By: Mike Muller

Mike Muller is a Commissioner of the National Planning Commission and a visiting professor at the Wits University School of Governance. He was DG of Water Affairs from 1997 to 2005. It was a little embarrassing: a few weeks ago, I went to talk to a group of residents in northern Johannesburg – well, it would have been called Roodepoort before – about water security. To be positive, I started by asking them how often their water had been cut off over the last few months. Out of a group of 200, just four put up their hands – and they lived in a complex where there had been a problem with the internal plumbing.

Read more: When no water is good news and less water is even better

Accidental rain making and multi-purpose pools

When last month I promised to talk about saving water, I was thinking about the challenges faced by Gauteng. So I was not surprised by the January rains that filled the dams on the Vaal. The best way to make it rain is to warn about drought; the moment you stop worrying, it stops raining. This is a useful lesson. Predicting weather trends is a bit like gambling – in the end, the house always wins. And, generally, you have just as little chance of making successful long range weather predictions. 

So it was KwaZulu-Natal, the province we normally think about as blessed with water, which started the year with drought warnings. At time of writing, their dams had dropped to critical levels and they were talking of restrictions. That was not just because the rains had been poor but because consumption in the areas north of eThekwini is growing faster than the capacity to store water. Meanwhile, Limpopo had the driest January, with many places receiving less than half of the monthly normal.

Read more: Accidental rain making and multi-purpose pools

Reinventing the loo to save water and money

By: Mike Muller

As I warned last month, we are going to have to talk a lot about saving water, particularly in the Gauteng area. Every time I talk to someone involved with Phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, the deadline stretches further into the future. The alternative to bringing water from Lesotho is to take some more from the Thukela. Unfortunately, that will also take time, since the project has not been planned to the same level of detail as the Lesotho one.

And can you imagine if it was announced that we will be going to KwaZulu-Natal for water? The rumours about Presidential involvement and water for Nkandla would run rife. So ahead of that discussion, let me just say that the decision to go to Lesotho rather than the Thukela was taken when President Zuma was already in position, not least because the cost of pumping water uphill would be far more than letting it run downhill by gravity. So there is still some sanity in government!

Read more: Reinventing the loo to save water and money

Don’t do it like the Brazilians!

By: Mike Muller

Let’s start with the bad news: I am going to be writing about ways to reduce water use for some time to come. Good rains in November and full dams notwithstanding, Gauteng will be at risk of shortages for the next few years at least. The good news is that there is no shortage of actions that we can take to decrease the risks. And when I say “we”, that means everybody from shack dwellers and suburban householders, to municipal managers and ministers.

Read more: Don’t do it like the Brazilians!

Rand Water learns the hard way

This month it is not difficult to choose a topic to write about – Gauteng’s water crisis cannot be ignored. It was actually a rather small crisis. Only a handful of suburbs were affected in each of the province’s three metros. A REAL crisis will affect the entire province. However, this one was bad enough, and showed just how hard it is to manage a water shortage across a large urban area (that’s what Gauteng is, really, give or take a few hills in the Magaliesberg and Suikerbosrand).

Read more: Rand Water learns the hard way

An important message from government : fix that leak – please!

Last month I attended one of the more important events on the South African water calendar – second only to PlumbDrain of course – the annual water leaks ‘summit’. Of course, it was ignored by the country’s journalists, especially on the day that MPs in red boiler suits were letting off steam in Parliament. 

Read more: An important message from government : fix that leak – please!

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