Water scarcity, the new normal

By Brendan Reynolds, executive director of IOPSA

Lately, South Africa has lurched from crisis to crisis in the water space. From the water crisis in Cape Town to the dire situation in Nelson Mandela Bay and Beaufort West running out of water, as well as the continuing pollution of the Vaal River system with raw sewage.

resizedWe seem to be unable to come to grips with water management and most people tend to point the finger squarely at government, but the reality is that each and every one of us has an important role to play. There is no way that government can solve these issues on its own, and plumbers are at the forefront. As plumbers we are in a position to make a huge difference.


Brendan Reynolds, the executive director of IOPSA. Credit: IOPSA


The first and most important step is for all of us to realise that our natural resources, especially freshwater, are finite — they will not last forever unless we change the way we use them. There is a huge body of evidence to confirm this. The great thing about water is that it generally does not get destroyed by use. This means that we can manage our use and, if we get it right, we could potentially have freshwater available to use forever. We just need to ensure that we start using it wisely. Freshwater is by far the most precious resource in the world, more important than gold, oil, diamonds, or any other ‘precious’ resource. Without freshwater we die — all of us, without exception … think about that for a few seconds.

The next step is for plumbers to recognise that they are important professionals who have a major role to play in the way we use and manage freshwater resources, both in South Africa and globally. Every single day, thousands of plumbers work on water systems in South Africa. The decisions you make on a daily basis have a direct impact on the system and, by implication, indirectly on every human being in the country. Do you choose to make a positive impact? Do you choose to follow the law, which is there to protect everyone, or do you just do what is most expedient? Do you choose to do what the architect / engineer / homeowner wants, even when you know it is wrong? Do you choose to save or waste water; pollute or protect it? You see, when you recognise that, as a plumber, you are a professional and must act as a professional, you will start making the right choices. Your choices matter!

Make no mistake, the professional plumber is a role model and thought leader in his/her community.

The last step is for professional plumbers to act. You need to do something to make a difference. Make no mistake, the professional plumber is a role model and a thought leader in his/her community. The way you act and the things you choose to do are seen by your colleagues, clients, neighbours, friends, family, and the community as a whole. They will watch you for guidance; if the professional plumber can waste water, so can I. If the professional plumber can break the law, so can I. What you do says far more about you than any words ever could.

Get involved and be active in your community, at IOPSA, at your children’s school, or anywhere else where you can use your influence to ensure good water practices. Choose to use quality-approved and environmentally friendly products. Use the latest water-saving devices and tools. Educate yourself.

Thoughts and words cannot change anything; ultimately, only your actions will make a difference.

Water scarcity is the new normal for South Africa. We may have some good rains this season and maybe even next year, but eventually the drought will return, more frequently and progressively more widespread. We must get used to this new normal and if we are to succeed and grow, we must find ways to deal with it. We simply cannot keep doing things the way we have always done them. Now is the time to change.

I hope you, the professional plumber, will choose to be a part of the solution. Water is the lifeblood of our industry and we, as professional plumbers, are in the best position to make a positive impact on how it is used. Without freshwater we have no industry and millions of lives will be put at risk. Be the change you want to see and make a positive impact on South Africa’s water resources.


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