Nelson Mandela Bay suburbs to run dry one by one if we don’t all act
“Water links us to our neighbour in a way more profound and complex than any other.”
This statement by American water law and policy expert John Thorson is particularly apt for the situation in which Nelson Mandela Bay finds itself.
Managing our metro’s network of water supply and demand can be mapped to a network of neighbours, and how they affect each other.
Nelson Mandela Bay is reliant on dams in neighbouring areas for water supply — from nearby Kouga to the Gariep Dam on the Free State border; while our closer neighbours like Jeffreys Bay, St Francis and Humansdorp in turn rely on our bulk pipeline for their water supply.
The levels of the dams supplying the metro were at a combined 10.51% last week — the lowest level ever.
There is now simply not enough to ensure everyone has water, all of the time.
In practical terms, this means while your neighbourhood or industrial area might have a secure water supply today, your neighbours are struggling without water for days, or longer, and this will eventually affect your supply too.
The metro’s senior director for water and sanitation, Barry Martin, made the point strongly in a radio interview last week, that water wasted on one side of the metro means dry taps on the other side, while water saved in one neighbourhood means more water available for transfer to another area.
The Nooitgedacht scheme, which treats water transferred from the Gariep Dam, supplies just over 55% of our water — but the idea that those areas supplied by Nooitgedacht will have a continuous water supply when other areas run dry, is a false sense of security, Martin said.
Water saved in the areas fed by Nooitgedacht, which include Motherwell extending into Kariega, parts of New Brighton, Zwide and the Northern Areas, is then available to be transferred into the western parts of the metro, which are at a closer threat of running dry.
Those in the western suburbs have fresh knowledge of what it’s like to go for days without water, when repairs on the Churchill Dam pipeline were done.
The first area of the metro forecast to run out of water is KwaNobuhle, and while this has been a threat for some time, it is only water savings made in other parts of the metro that have thus far held KwaNobuhle off from running dry.
It’s now a matter of about a week, and the result is going to be a humanitarian crisis for the about 200,000 residents of KwaNobuhle.
Should the situation not improve, close after KwaNobuhle come the areas served by the Churchill and Impofu dams, stretching in a broad stripe from north End to the Baywest precinct, taking in Korsten and Ibhayi, Charlo and Mount Pleasant, Fairview to Seaview, and further-out smallholding and farming areas.
Mill Park, Walmer, Summerstrand and Newton Park are next, predicted to run out by October.
As neighbours, we are all in this together.
The metro has had rain recently, a welcome soak for gardens but, again, a false sense of security, because it did not bring significant run-off into the dams.
We all need to accept we live in a water-scarce region and country, and adapt our living and business habits accordingly.
Water is a basic need, and as such, we must conserve, recycle and implement initiatives which will ensure the sustainability of supply for the long-term.
Alongside this, the successful implementation of key projects is vital, such as phase three of the Nooitgedacht scheme, the connection of critical pipelines and pump stations, the construction of the Coegakop water treatment works and the construction of desalination plants at the Coega IDZ and Schoenmakerskop.
The most urgent need is for all businesses and residents to reduce their water consumption by at least 20%, to delay parts of the city running dry, one by one.
Business consumes more than 35% of the city’s water supply.
As such, we have a responsibility as corporate citizens to reduce consumption wherever possible, and to assist communities — where many small businesses operate — under threat of running dry.
Several companies have stepped up to assist schools with repairing leaks and essential maintenance, as well as securing sustainable future supply by installing water tanks and drilling boreholes, and we need more businesses to get involved.
In addition to this, business is also involved in providing emergency water supplies for KwaNobuhle.
Businesses large and small need to get innovative and creative in reducing, reusing and recycling water.
The expertise to help businesses do this is here in the city, in the form of specialist plumbers, water engineers, sustainability consultants — we need to draw on this.
The municipality in turn needs to continue to accelerate efforts to fix leaks which account for 35% of the total water loss which occurs in our city.
Equally important is an elevated focus on long-term planning to maintain and upgrade water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure.
In email correspondence with Judge Thorson, whose quote opened this article, he said: “I hope your conditions improve and your polity [the entirety of government, business, civil society, communities and individuals making up our metro] takes the actions necessary to adapt.”
I hope so too.
Denise van Huyssteen is the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.
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