“The drought that has impacted many regions within South Africa for a considerable length of time now has exposed the poor, or lack of, water management (monitoring and control) ability of many water institutions, as well as the difficulties and inability of municipalities and their consumers to be able to reduce their consumption when required” says Steve Gillham, General Manager: Engineering and Scientific Services, Umgeni water and advisory board member of African Utility Week, the leading annual conference and exhibition with a strong focus on water management, taking place in Cape Town in May.
He adds: “there are many hard lessons being learnt by the affected water institutions that need to be shared and documented to improve the response for future drought events. Responses have come from national, provincial, water boards and municipalities to dry to address the situation. Certain initiatives have been more effective than others”.
Water becoming scarce commodity
It may come as a surprise to some that globally South Africa is classified as a water-stressed country, with annual rainfall of about 492 millimetres compared to other areas with around 985 millimetres. The Western Cape is in a situation where the threat of water shedding is looming and currently on high alert with level 3B water restrictions.
“This vital resource needs our help!“ says Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl, editor of ESI-Africa, a leading power and water trade publication and session chair at African Utility Week, “and considering that water is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity, time has come for us to become extra mindful of our water usage as a way of life going forward, even after the restrictions are lifted in the future.”
She explains: “the question to ask yourself is what your household and company are using potable water resources on. We were in a similar situation with electricity load shedding and rallied around backup generators, energy efficient light bulbs and switching off equipment in standby mode.”
Let us not fall back into old habits
“The same applies to water” Nicolette adds, “the solutions are endless and people are coming up with innovative ways to manage their water usage more effectively, such as attaching extension pipes to outlets to run grey water straight into the garden. Incidentally, research has shown that gardens, toilets, baths and showers use the most water. So concentrate on managing these areas. Consider putting a layer of mulch around trees and plants to slow evaporation, choose water wise plants, opt for a rock garden instead or find alternatives such as artificial grass.”
ESI Africa’s editor says: “Around the house fix dripping taps, do not let the water run whilst brushing your teeth or washing your hands. Try a ‘dry’ shower by turning off taps whilst soaping up – be bold, inventive and imagine a life without water as your inspiration.”
She adds: “it is also very inspiring to hear about big apartment blocks in the city that have organised to give all the residents a big 10 litre bucket each to collect their grey water which is then used to water the gardens and used to clean the building and outside facilities.”
“Let’s use our social media (neighbourhood Facebook and Whatsapp groups) to help each other manage this precious resource more efficiently. And most importantly, when the rain does come, let us not fall back into old habits. And let’s not forget that South Africa is celebrating the annual National Water Week next month from 16-19 March to raise awareness while World Water Day takes place on 22 March.”
Managing water services better
“Drinking water and wastewater utilities in Africa are struggling to cope with the increasing demand for services, especially in rapidly growing urban areas” says Evan Schiff, even director of African Utility Week. He continues: “responding adequately to this ever increasing demand necessitates strong and active partnerships between the private sector in particular and municipal governments”.
The water track at African Utility Week will bring together experts from public and private sectors to support utilities and municipalities become more responsive and efficient in their practices.
African Utility Week takes place from 16-18 May 2017 at the CTICC in Cape Town, gathering over 7000 decision makers in the power and water sectors from more than 40 countries to source the latest solutions and meet over 300 suppliers. The expo will feature free to attend technical workshops and technology demonstrations. Head to their official website for more info.