Maintenance and management could save us from running dry

Most of South Africa’s current water supply problems and restrictions could be avoided by proper management of existing schemes, according to research presented at the recent International Groundwater Conference held at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.

At least 34 million cubic metres of water are lost a year between the source and the end-user in the Western Cape alone, excluding Cape Town and surrounds. More than 10m³ of these could be saved.

The paper Ensuring Water Supply for all Towns and Villages of South Africa was presented by Dr Kornelius Riemann, principal hydrogeologist at Cape Town earth sciences consultancy Umvoto Africa.

The findings are based on research by Umvoto Africa in the Western and Eastern Cape, as part of the All Towns Study by the Department of Water Affairs (DWA).

The nationwide programme started in 2008 to map and develop water strategies.

Research shows many communities rely on untreated raw water from rivers, springs or boreholes. Many are contaminated because of poor land management and source protection. “The smaller stand-alone water supply and treatment schemes may achieve the required drinking water standard, but often lack the required quality management to ensure continuous good drinking water,” said Riemann.

Dr Kornelius Riemann of Umvoto Africa“The situation for the waste-water treatment plants is often bleaker, with many works not complying with effluent water quality standards. In most cases, the poor condition of water treatment plants and waste-water treatment plants can be attributed to neglect of the works. Often, the best and most cost-effective solution lies in the refurbishment and proper maintenance of existing infrastructure. This is mainly found with groundwater schemes, where ‘boreholes are dismantled or pumps broken, and the municipalities then complain about the ‘unreliability’ of groundwater.”

Only 13 percent of South Africa’s total water supply comes from groundwater, found in porous sandy and shale strata, and in the fractures of fissures of rock formations. However, a growing number of municipalities are successfully using it.

More than half of the surveyed communities across the Eastern Cape were supplied by groundwater from over 2,000 boreholes, said Riemann.

A DWA database of all water supply infrastructure in the Eastern Cape has about 10,000 entries for boreholes.

The DWA initiative to develop a “water road map” for South Africa at various scales was started in 2000, when assessments were done for each major basin in South Africa.

Reconciliation strategies for the metropolitan areas were completed in 2007. Implementation is monitored by committees. The approach has been extended to all metropolitan areas, towns and villages.

WATER WORKS: Dr Kornelius Riemann of Umvoto Africa

Source: Cape Argus Newspaper