Start preparing for 54 hours without water

Rand Water urges consumers to use water sparingly ahead of Monday’s outage

10 November 2021 - 15:19
By Gill Gifford
Rand Water will shut down water supplies to eight municipalities and surrounding areas for 54 hours from Monday. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Weerapat Kiatdumrong Rand Water will shut down water supplies to eight municipalities and surrounding areas for 54 hours from Monday. Stock photo.

Residents in the eight municipalities across Gauteng that will be affected by Rand Water’s planned 54-hour shutdown from 5am on Monday are urged to start curbing their water use from Thursday.

The reasoning is that by ensuring all water stores and backup plans are in place by Wednesday, usage will reduce from Thursday and authorities will have time to ensure that reservoirs and storage facilities are filled to capacity before the outage kicks in.

“The reservoirs are like giant buckets and need time to fill. If people continue draining them and emptying the system, we will run out of water quickly,” explained water engineer Eddie Singo.

Singo is the executive manager of Rand Water’s Zuikerbosch water treatment plant in the Vaal region, where the 54-hour shutdown will take place. He has been in the industry for 20 years, and is a technical man who understands the job ahead of them and the reasons for it.

This shutdown, he said, had been planned since 2019 after a similar shutdown at that time. Monday’s shutdown is a maintenance measure undertaken to add a new pipe to the system that will not only increase the amount of water that can be drawn from the river into the treatment plant, but will increase the volume of the old pipes that supply municipalities and provide extra flexibility in future when shutdowns are needed.

On Monday at 5am, Rand Water will shut down the B11 pipeline and add the B19 pipe to the system. This means supply to the City of Johannesburg, West Rand, Mogale City, Merafong, Rustenburg, Madibeng, Metsimaholo and Emfuleni will be largely affected.

Ordinarily this should not have a huge impact on municipalities that have managed their water supplies well and have the recommended “buffer” of 48 hours of water supply.

However, Prof Anthony Turton of the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State, who is familiar with Rand Water’s operations, said the problem consumers face comes down to municipal infrastructure that has, in most cases, been neglected and mismanaged for decades so water stores are inadequate.

“Rand Water is the biggest bulk water supplier in the entire world, or the southern hemisphere at the very least. They deal with millions and millions of litres of water and thousands of kilometres of pipes,” Turton said, explaining that Monday’s shutdown is indicative of a well-run operation that is upgrading, maintaining and continuing to build on and improve its capacity.

“However, over the years there has been corruption, a lack of maintenance, pipe bursts and water leaks, all of which have impacted negatively on the capacity of a system that should ideally be able to continue operating for a while without input,” he said.

If people don’t put water in the cistern before flushing, toilets rapidly get backed up. When the system pressure comes back on, there is not enough force to get those big plugs of waste moving.
Prof Anthony Turton

Singo is not concerned about the outage and believes consumers will manage well if they are prepared and ready to reduce their consumption to the absolute minimum for a few days. Municipalities were given 21 days' warning and residents have been asked to help too.

“The best case scenario we are hoping for is just low water pressure in the worst hit areas, and the worst scenario we foresee is areas that are high-lying and high-demand will run out of water. The municipalities should be prepared for that and have their static tanks and mobile water tankers ready to respond,” Singo said.

Turton, however, believes the 54-hour shutdown, if not managed well, could lead to catastrophic consequences down the line, particularly in high-density high-rise apartment blocks, if people are not careful to ensure toilets don’t block.

“A number of things can happen when water flow is cut off. If people don’t put water in the cistern before flushing, toilets rapidly get backed up. When the system pressure comes back on, there is not enough force to get those big plugs of waste moving and you can get a catastrophic situation,” he said.

To prepare for the water outage, Turton advised consumers with swimming pools to use that water to keep their toilets flushed, and for those with baths to run a full one and use that for flushing.

“But they must also keep in mind that they have a new drowning hazard in the home, particularly if there are small children around,” he warned.

Even when the maintenance work is done and the new pipe comes on line, it will take time for water supplies to get flowing again and be restored, he added.

“It could take up to a few days for the whole system to stabilise.”

TimesLIVE