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Saturday Star - No holds barred in draft National Master Plan for Water

Saturday, 10 February 2018 07:01
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Saturday Star

January 27 2018

No holds barred in draft National Master Plan for Water


Sheree Bega


South Africa’s water scarcity could rapidly get worse as supply contracts and demand escalates due to growth, urbanisation, unsustainable use, degradation of wetlands, water losses and a decline in rainfall because of climate change.

This is one of the warnings contained in the new draft National Master Plan for Water and Sanitation.

Based on current demand projections, the water deficit confronting the country could be between 2.7 and 3.8 billion cubic metres, a gap of about 17%, by 2030. As of July last year, according to the draft plan, South Africa has consumed more water per capita at about 237 * /c/d than the world average of around 173 * /c/d. To address crippling water shortages, desalinated sea water in coastal areas, and treated waste water, will increasingly be brought into the water mix - together with an increase in the use of groundwater.

Desalination plants should “not be implemented as an emergency scheme, only to be used intermittently or during times of drought and inadequate supply from the conventional water resources,” the draft plan cautions. “These schemes are too costly to be moth-balled for any length of time.”

The draft plan notes that two or even three large-scale seawater desalination projects are likely to be launched nationally within the next five years in the major coastal hubs.

The water re-use schemes in Beaufort-West and George, built from the 2009-11 drought, “are operating full-time and supply good quality water to the inhabitants.” There is huge scope for developing this source, the draft plan states, especially in coastal cities where further freshwater resources are “becoming very scarce and costly to develop.”

New institutional arrangements will include nine regional water utilities and one national catchment agency.

Mariette Liefferink, of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, stressed that the department needs to implement its policies.

“The failure to implement and enforce the findings and recommendations of reports, plans, strategies, regulations, policies, etc. has led us into a cul-de-sac of theory and action.

“While the proposed actions and targets ... are laudable, they will merely remain aspirations if the lack of political will and political interference are not decisively addressed,” she asserted.

Late last year, a report by the SA Water Caucus revealed the institutional and governance challenges plaguing the department.

This included capacity constraints, high staff turnover and vacancy rates, and suspension of senior management.

Other problems included poor financial management; considerable policy and institutional uncertainty and incoherence and major challenges to institutions critical for water governance.

The deterioration in wastewater treatment infrastructure and significant deficiencies in reporting, compliance monitoring and enforcement were also red-flagged in the report.

The draft Master Plan acknowledges some of these challenges, noting how 56% of the country’s 1 150 wastewater treatment works need urgent rehabilitation and ongoing maintenance.

“Deteriorating water quality is a major constraint to economic and social development, reduces the sustainably available resource, and impacts significantly on cost,” the draft plan cautions.

It describes how projects of national importance for urgent implementation such as the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase 2 for Gauteng is already overdue and the system “is in deficit”.

Water losses are a “ticking time bomb” as further interuptions are imminent if ageing infrastructure is not timeously renewed, says the draft plan.

The department says the impact of the plan will be to “deliver through action” in the recognition that “you can’t drink paper plans”.