Our pipes must not run dry again

Thursday, October 2, 2014

By Acting Director General of Communications Phumla Williams

Water is our lifeblood; it is essential to our survival.  The vital importance of water was made clear by the water supply challenges in Gauteng over the past two weeks.

The disruptions affected our everyday lives and highlighted the need to ensure that water infrastructure works effectively. It also brought home the reality that we must do everything within our power to conserve this important resource.

The remarkable patience of communities and businesses in the face of these frustrations was heartening.  

However, such disruptions are unacceptable. Residents should rest assured that the the situation continues to receive our highest priority. Our engineers have worked around the clock to ensure the situation is normalised.

To help increase the water levels at affected reservoirs, water was diverted from areas that had enough water. Water tankers were also dispatched to communities that had experienced problems.

The Gauteng water interruption can only be described as a perfect storm. Through a rare combination of unusual events, the water supply to parts of Ekurhuleni, the West Rand, Joburg and Tshwane was affected.

The Rand Water Board reported that the main cause of the interruptions was the ageing infrastructure, but this was exacerbated by vandalism as well as a power supply problem.

It began when a technical fault led to a loss of power at Rand Water’s Eikenhof pump station which supplies water to more than 40 percent of Joburg. A back-up transformer to support the facility was faulty and did not operate as expected causing reservoirs in the province to run low.

The theft of electrical cables for water pumps at reservoirs made things worse.

This unfortunate chain of events has brought to the fore important considerations in the supply of bulk water for the province. In future, there will be an adequate provision of back-up power.

Rand Water is putting contingency measures in place to avoid a repeat of the situation. It will work towards an energy mix and its own electricity supply system to ensure an uninterrupted power supply. It will also develop a Gauteng water master plan to ensure there is no interruption.

The seriousness of the water situation prompted the Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane to meet with the board of Rand Water last week to chart a way forward. She advised Rand Water to work more closely with its stakeholders so problems can be foreseen and adequate measure instituted in time.

Mayors, ward councillors and community leaders should be engaged and consumer education and general communication strengthened.

Minister Mokonyane established a War Room to deal with the problem and a hotline was set up to ensure feedback to communities. A team of all relevant stakeholders has been convened to manage the feedback system.

The extraordinary events have highlighted the need for bulk water suppliers to communicate with residents.

The minister advised the board of Rand Water to work closely with communities and alert them to water challenges, including unforeseen water interruptions and remedial actions that might need to be taken.

Minister Mokonyane said: “Remember that, as a board, you have a responsibility towards the communities you serve. You need to close the disjuncture between your commitment to the communities and what is eventually delivered.”

Tapping into positive reports of the works of Water Boards in other provinces, the Minister emphasised the need for the current Board to interrogate the way it works and how it can be adapt and improve its process for the benefit of the communities it serves.

The Board agreed to work to restore the confidence of affected communities including direct consumers of Rand Water services.

As we plan to ensure that water interruptions are minimised, we should always be mindful that water is a scarce commodity. South Africa is ranked 30th driest country and we should all play our part in preserving this vital commodity.

Water is a catalyst for socio-economic development, so we should treat it with the utmost care. The government calls on all sectors to protect, conserve and manage water in a sustainable manner. Our communities have an important role to play in reporting water leaks to their local municipality.

Even though water has been restored to the main municipalities, residents are encouraged to still use water sparingly. This can be done by minimising non-essential activities like watering gardens and filling swimming pools.

You can also help by reporting criminals who place hundreds of lives at risk and jeopardise our economy by stealing electrical cables.  We must work closely with the police to bring those responsible to justice.

With the situation reaching normality, there is no need to hoard or stockpile water this will only place greater strain on our water supply. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and ensure communities are informed of all developments.


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