Is Johannesburg heading towards a water shortage crisis?
Experts argue that South Africa is still in a water crisis, with estimates that Johannesburg and even South Africa as a whole could run out of water as soon as 2030 if more effort is not put into conserving water and changing the attitudes and behaviours of Johannesburg’s citizens.
Johannesburg currently gets its water from the Vaal dam and imports much of its water from Lesotho, via the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
The main dams that supply Johannesburg are the Katse Dam, which, according to the South African Government’s Department of Water and Sanitation are collectively sitting at 20.9% of their full capacity.
In late 2017 and the first half of 2018, Cape Town and the larger Western Cape region experienced perhaps the worst water shortage in South Africa’s recent history. During this time, dam levels dropped to as little as 15% capacity and in early 2018 the concept of a “Day Zero” was introduced, which was essentially the day the taps would have run dry.
This was used by the local government as something of a scorecard, with the day being used to force all citizens of Cape Town, and the Western Cape, to conserve water and change their behaviours.
The publishing of day zero has been both applauded and widely criticised, especially by the tourism industry, who argue that foreign tourists will not want to visit a country where they cannot be guaranteed a supply of water, but it cannot be ignored that it forced ordinary South Africans to conserve water and change their behaviour.
So what are we going to do to prevent a potential water shortage?
While government has put in place plans to construct a new dam in Lesotho, the Polihali Dam, the project is proceeding very slowly, fraught with allegations of corruption.
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Part of the difficulty for Johannesburg is the fact that it is located at such a high altitude, 1,800m, away from the largest body of water source. Most cities are traditionally built near large water sources, but Johannesburg sprang up around the rich deposits of gold, found on the Highveld.
This means that to get water to Johannesburg is expensive and an engineering nightmare, with water needing to be pumped more than 300m higher to get it from the Vaal Dam to Johannesburg.This is extremely energy intensive, and is severely affected by South Africa’s power situation, where there are constant electricity shortages.
Rand Water has indicated that the bulk water is distributed via the four booster pump station and the VVS sub-system, through a total network of 3500km bulk pipelines and 60 storage reservoirs.
South Africa’s citizens need to be educated on the current water situation, as many individuals are blissfully unaware that we are heading toward a water crisis.
Municipality customers account for 95% of total demand with direct supply to mines making up the balance. Rand water customers include;
- Metropolitan Municipal Councils - City of Joburg, City of Ekurhuleni, City of Tshwane;
- 13 Municipalities - Emfuleni, Govan Mbeki, Lesedi, Madibeng, Merafong, Metsimaholo, Midvaal, Mogale City, Ngwathe, Randwest, Rustenburg, Thembisile Hani, Victor Khanye;
- Royal Bafokeng Administration;
- 40 Mines;
- 926 industries and direct customers.
Rising climate change has also affected South Africa’s water supply, with many areas experiencing numerous droughts over recent years. International experts predict this will only get worse over the next 10 years, and that global water supply will start to become a constant issue for major cities all over the world.
Total average daily demand for the Rand Water network is projected to increase from the current AADD demand of some 4 320 Mℓ/d to around 5 500 Mℓ/d by 2030.
Some cities, such as Singapore, have put drastic plans in place to help combat this, and ensure their water supply for the long-term, using desalination and recycling to become far more water efficient. South African cities will need to take the same steps to secure their precious water supplies.
South Africa’s citizens need to be educated on the current water situation, as many individuals are blissfully unaware that we are heading toward a water crisis. South Africans need to face the reality that there will be more water shortages soon, with the possibility of long-term water restrictions being implemented.
The reality of this is starting to sink in, with more research being directed toward water conservation and the need to educate people about their habits and the need for conservative water usage.
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About the author: James Brittain is an MBA Candidate at the Gordon’s Institute of Business Science.