Created on Wednesday, 29 September 2010 04:36
Last Updated on Friday, 04 January 2013 03:15
Written by Administrator
Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) and the World Wildlife Fund, reports that South Africa’s water demand will exceed supply by 1.7% in 2025, and metropolitan areas like the Witwatersrand are expected to experience shortages as early as 2013. And warnings since 1993 clearly state that “South Africa’s available fresh water resources are almost fully utilised and under stress” and that water use was not sustainable at projected growth rates.
The importance of water for economic growth in South Africa, a largely semi-arid country, was recognised as early as the 1960s when the government started an extensive dam building programme on our major rivers to ensure a regular water supply for both agriculture and industry.
Despite these efforts scientists and researchers warn of a looming water shortage.
More economic activity, more intensive land-use practices and a growth in population have increased the demand for water while also degrading the resource. We have added to the pollution while taking away natural storage and filtration systems provided by wetlands.
Dr Anthony Turton warns that a crisis in the water sector could fan social unrest.
Demand almost exceeds supply
Research conducted in 2004 showed that we were already using 98% of all our water resources.
Turton says the calculation was based on estimates of water resources in 1998, resulting in an overestimate of our water resources. He also says that Department of Water Affairs (DWA) has suffered from a lack of qualified staff, which has resulted in poor data, and outdated management of dams.
Turton believes that the storage capacity of dams has dropped as the floor level rises with siltation build-up.
It gets worse…
The supply crisis is exacerbated by other factors, including: rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, a shortage of skilled staff and a decline in the quality of water.
In February the DWA reported that less than 11% South Africa’s 283 municipalities have properly functioning water services and that there is an acute risk of disease.
Early statements said that only 54% of the country’s 294 dams owned and managed by DWA comply with modern safety standards, and in 2008 half of the municipal water supplies surveyed in the Western Cape had high levels of E.coli bacteria.
As the quality of water sources deteriorate, it becomes more complex and more expensive to purify water and make it safe for drinking.
CESA confirms that water quality is deteriorating and says that South Africa needs to build, maintain and upgrade infrastructure and to improve staff skills to prevent serious water shortages by 2019.
Where water becomes unsafe for drinking and bathing, it also becomes unsafe to use for irrigation or cattle and dairy farming. Turton adds that global warming will cause the temperature of water in dams to increase, and that it likely to cause additional blue-green algae.
Adding new dams to an already stressed water resource system is not the answer. Desalination is regarded as too expensive, and diverting water resources from neighbouring countries is a political minefield subject to the whim of the ruling parties.
So what is the solution to South Africa’s water crisis?
Apart from a national strategy and the necessary political will to address skills and infrastructure, Turton has other suggestions too.
He says that the flat and wide structure of most of South Africa’s dams provides a large surface area for evaporation. We could be losing as much as 80% of rainfall to evaporation and plant use.
The two most important river basins in South Africa – the Orange and the Limpopo – has only 5% of the rainfall reaching the river system. We need to come up with technologies, like underground storage, that prevent evaporation loses.
“Unless we rethink water and energy, South Africa will be in such dire straits that it will not recover,” says Turton.
He says we need investigate ways to recycle and re-use water.
The CSIR has forecast that South Africa will need 66-billion cubic metres of water by 2035, almost double the amount of water available. But, if we are able to re-use water 0.8 times, we already have enough water.
Turton says that the mining sector has created a hole under Johannesburg that is five times larger that Lake Kariba, and perfect for the underground storage of water, except for the fact that it is currently toxic.
We are going to have to think creatively, and fast, to solve the problem without it affecting economic growth, job creation, health and quality of life of all South Africans.
This is an edited version of an article was written by Sharon Davis for the Wits Business School Journal
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