Water security appears regularly in the top five global economic risks, according to the World Economic Forum.
With increasing pressure from population growth and the need for water to support economic growth, South Africa’s water security is increasingly at risk. Additional threats are posed by climate change, land-use changes, declining water quality, and catchment degradation.
“Not only is it vital that South Africa continues to invest in the development of its physical infrastructure systems, we must also invest in the people who manage these systems and maintain our critical ecological infrastructure such as wetlands, catchments, groundwater aquifers, and river systems,” states Aurecon Technical Director, James Cullis.
South Africa has always been a water-stressed country, and as a result, has developed a complex and highly integrated bulk distribution system.
Johannesburg is the only global city to be located on a continental divide, while South Africa has one of the highest numbers of large dams per capita globally. Therefore, the country’s resource expertise and legislation is respected globally.
Cullis elaborates: “Investing in technical and institutional capacity, improved operations, efficiency, and the development of decision support systems is particularly important as we become increasingly dependent on these more complex and stressed supply systems.
“We also need to balance the trade-off between competing demands for an increasingly scarce resource. Financial constraints and a lack of capacity and accountability for the management of our resources is a constraint requiring innovative solutions, particularly in Africa.”
There are still significant opportunities for improved efficiency through replacing old pipes, reducing leaks, and by implementing new technologies such as low-flush toilets, improved irrigation systems, and pressure-management devices. Smart technologies, improved monitoring, and operational decision support systems are also critical to reduce wastage.
Diverse and alternative water-supply options
The future will see a transition to more diverse and alternative water-supply options. In particular, the potential for increased reuse of wastewater for both direct and indirect purposes has many advantages.
This is increasingly recognised as an important supply option for the future, particularly for landlocked countries or regions, including Gauteng. Demand management will, however, continue to be an important component for managing the variability of supply. “It is clear that the private sector will have an increasing role in coming up with long-term water solutions,” Cullis adds.
Trends include a general move towards more decentralised supply and treatment solutions, similar to what is happening for energy, but the private sector will also be critical in terms of providing the financing as part of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs).
“We have undertaken water resource planning and feasibility studies for alternative water-supply options, including deep groundwater aquifers, desalination, and direct and in-direct potable re-use. We are also assisting municipalities in terms of access to financing, development of their digital transformation strategy, and the development of decision support systems to improve operational efficiencies and reduce losses,” Cullis concludes.