More must be done to achieve the 2014 water loss target – WRC study says
As South Africa celebrates National Water Week from 18 to 24 March 2013 the issue of water losses remains at the top of the agenda. So much so that a national dialogue was held where the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, shared her views on the country’s challenges around non–revenue water and our responses to date. During this dialogue the findings from the recently concluded Water Research Commission (WRC) study into the state of non-revenue water in South Africa were presented. The event was held at the Cape Town ICC on Wednesday, 20 March 2013.
The importance of water use efficiency, conservation and demand management is a key priority identified in the Draft Second National Water Resource Strategy, which identifies its implementation as a core strategy to ensure sufficient water to meet South Africa’s needs in the future. This compels all sectors to start doing things differently in order to manage and meet the country’s demand for water.
The dialogue provided a platform to present findings from a study conducted on 132 municipalities throughout South Africa, which provides an estimate for the current proportion of total water use made up by non-revenue water for the country as a whole of 36.8%. Of this, 25.4% is considered to be due to physical leakages (real losses). This figure is similar to the estimated world average of 36.6% but is considered high in comparison to other developing countries. Similar WRC assessments were undertaken in 2001, 2005 and 2007. This study is the most comprehensive to date on non-revenue water in SA, and was a joint effort by the Department of Water Affairs and the WRC.
South Africa’s target for reducing our water losses by 2014 was articulated by President Jacob Zuma in his 2010 State of the Nation Address, when he said “We are not a water-rich country. Yet we still lose a lot of water through leaking pipes and inadequate infrastructure. We will be putting in place measures to reduce our loss by half by 2014”.
The study confirmed that non-revenue water remains the product of many factors, including poor planning, limited financial resources to implement the necessary programmes, poor infrastructure asset maintenance and lack of capacity. However, several additional problem areas were also identified. One of the greatest inhibitors to the introduction of successful water demand management in many municipalities is the lack of proper auditing and documentation of the various interventions.
Dhesigen Naidoo, WRC CEO, says, “Although it is challenging for most municipalities, this presents an opportunity to persuade their customers to use water more efficiently and penalise them financially for high water use. Water sales are the prime source of income for local government structures. It is high time people realise that if water is not used conservatively, resulting in demand outstripping supply, their municipalities will end up having to pay for expensive infrastructure to augment its bulk water supply, which cost billions of rands”.
Lessons can be drawn from other South African municipalities like Hermanus, where the use of block tariffs for water and use of informative billing contributed to the reduction of water consumption by 25%. Municipalities can start looking at water pricing that reflects the true value of water and which can act as a strong incentive to reduce wastage.
According to Jay Bhagwan, WRC Executive Manager: Water Use and Waste Management, restrictions on consumers' behaviour, such as the use of hose-pipes for washing paved surfaces, washing cars or watering gardens in times of water shortages, can be enforced through municipal bylaws. However, manufacturers of showers, baths and toilets installed in houses also contribute to unnecessary water wastage by manufacturing devices that use a lot of water unnecessarily. It becomes difficult for municipalities to check this since they don’t have enough building inspectors to do the work adequately. Bhagwan suggests, "We need to start checking if the products sold by plumbers are really water efficient".
According to the project leader, MD of WRP Consulting Engineers Ronnie McKenzie, more than half of municipalities were unable to provide any data on non-revenue water, since many still lack even the most basic bulk meter readings, which means that they do not know that they have a problem. It is however, reassuring to note that there has been a dedicated effort to provide safe drinking water to outlying communities that have previously had no access to a formal water supply. Some municipalities have even improved efficiency through the installation of new pipelines and supplies in line with Government policy to improve the level of service to all citizens.
“It is pleasing to note that large metros and most of the large cities and towns are now monitoring their water use and trying to establish a proper and reliable water balance in line with international recommendations,” notes McKenzie. “Progress in this regard is certainly being made and both the DWA and the WRC are creating awareness and encouraging proper water auditing at the municipal level.” The Category A municipalities (metros) achieved non-revenue water levels of around 34.3% compared to 72.5% (on average) achieved by B4 (small) municipalities.
The findings indicate that, while South Africa compares well to the world average, we do not compare well to other water-scarce countries, such as Australia, whose non-revenue water levels are often less than 10%. There is still much scope for improvement. As a water-scarce country we cannot afford to waste so much water.
The study also indicates that South Africa still has a relatively high per capita water use (around 273 litres per person per day) which is an indication that the average citizen still does not realise the scarcity of this resource. The current volume of non-revenue water is around 1 580 million m3 of water per annum – roughly equal to the annual supply of Africa’s largest water utility, Rand Water. At a nominal production cost of R4.50/m3, this loss represents about R7.2 billion a year.
While the Second National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS2) sets a target to reduce non-revenue water in municipalities to 15% by 2014, the study indicates that this may be difficult to achieve without the injection of many billions of Rand into the necessary water demand management interventions countrywide within the next two years. Without such a massive financial investment a target of 25% within ten years is achievable, especially considering municipalities' current resources.
Contact: Mr Jay Bhagwan; Executive Manager Water Use and Waste Management .
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