Billions needed to plug SA water leaks

It is going to cost billions to plug the country's ageing and leaking water supply systems, Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said.

Speaking at the release of a report into the state of non-revenue water in South Africa, she said among its findings were that 1.58 billion cubic metres of supplied water went unaccounted for each year.

“It is estimated that non-revenue water for the country as a whole is

approximately 36.8 percent of the water supplied.”

At a nominal production cost of R4.50 a cubic metre, this was a loss of about R7.2 billion a year.

Non-revenue water is water that has been pumped into the system, but is “lost” before it reaches the customer, mainly through leaking pipes, theft or metering inaccuracies.

The report, by WRP Consulting Engineers, was commissioned by the Water Research Commission, and based on data from 132 municipalities.

Highlights from the document, including the scale of the water loss, were released earlier this year.

Molewa said the 36.8 percent figure for non-revenue water was “a typical average value by world norms”, and lower than the norm for a developing country. However, her department aimed to reduce this over the next decade.

“It is estimated that a realistic target for non-revenue water of 25 percent is achievable over a period of 10 years,” Molewa said.

This would require an investment of R10 billion over this period.

“[This is] if the required investment of approximately R2 billion a year is allocated to water demand management interventions throughout all municipalities in South Africa.”

Currently, the amount of unaccounted-for water was roughly equal to the annual supply of Africa's largest water utility, Rand Water.

Molewa said non-revenue water should be seen as a source of water, and represented a “significant opportunity” for municipalities to save water.

The report says small municipalities lose, on average, 72.5 percent of their water; mid-sized municipalities between 30.5 and 41.3 percent; and metros around 34.3 percent.

Speaking later to journalists, Molewa said her department had yet to apply to National Treasury for the R2 billion a year needed to reduce the volume of non-revenue water. However, there was some money available in the current budget that could be used.

Her department had also started to address the skills and capacity shortages at municipalities, deploying so-called "rapid response teams" where these were needed. It was also involved in the training of artisans.