Management of scarce resource essential as dam levels remain low

The Kouga Dam is one of four supplying water to Nelson Mandela Bay
The Kouga Dam is one of four supplying water to Nelson Mandela Bay
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

Businesses in Nelson Mandela Bay have added their voices to the call for better water conservation in the region in light of the ever-dwindling supply dams.

On Wednesday the level of the four major dams supplying the metro reached 29%.

This is not only as a result of the prolonged drought which has gripped the region, but also through the high percentage of water leaks and water usage in the Bay which stand at about 300-million litres of water per day.

This figure, if reduced by about 10%, could not only extend the water supply but also positively impact the metro’s economy, according to the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber.

Chamber CEO Nomkhita Mona said they had established a water task team, made up of experts from their member companies and civil society to monitor, evaluate and assist in tackling the situation as part of their “How To Build A City” initiative.

“We continue to put pressure on the municipality to reduce the more than 33% of water loss through leaks, and ensuring accurate billing for usage,” Mona said.

“At the same time we are talking to industry about putting private-sector initiatives in place, such as desalination plants, enabled by the municipality where we are encouraged by recent top appointments.”

Civil engineer David Raymer, who worked for the metro for 27 years at water engineer operations overseeing the metro’s water supply and distribution and  director of Uhambiso Consult, said more effective management of the situation was essential.

“We are in a drought and the water supply in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro is in a terrible mess. Water needs to be strictly managed, with strict maintenance and leakage targets.

“The metro is not achieving this despite our dam levels being so low.”

“There are a lot of competent technical and systems managers working for metro water who are trying to do their work but battling because the maintenance and repairs contracts are not being signed off,” Raymer said.

“I’m happy to say a really good CFO, Selwyn Thys, has just been appointed, and hopefully he will rectify this.”

Metro development economist and water task team member Wendy McCallum assessed the impact of water on the metro’s economy, saying: “If we, as civil society and corporate citizens of our city were to reduce water usage by 10% until 2030, we would be able to generate almost 1,000 new jobs in the city because water “saved” would be available to new industries.”

Plant engineer at Volkswagen SA in Uitenhage, Nick Chapman said: “At VW our municipal water comes from the Gariep water supply and we are completely reliant on this. If the water supply ran out, we would not be able to operate.

“Over the past 10 years we have significantly reduced our water use. In 2011 we were using 6.12 kilolitres (kℓ) per vehicle produced; at the end of September 2019 we were down to 2.09 kl per vehicle.

“One example of water usage reduction is that instead of having to rinse the chemical dipping tank twice a month, we changed to a new chemical and now rinse the tank twice a year.”

Another of the largest metro businesses is Nelson Mandela University.

The university’s sustainability engineer, Dr Andre Hefer, said they had increased the use of secondary sources of water (return effluent (RE) or “new” water), as well as borehole water, rainwater and grey water in effort to conserve the scarce resource.

“The university’s sport fields account for about 20% of our total water use. Instead of using potable water, we are buying water from the Cape Recife Waste Water Treatment Works which generates a quality of new water to a standard that is safe for irrigation.

“We pay approximately R2.20 per kℓ for this water as opposed to R17 per kl for municipal water. Our new residences are also geared towards the use of new water.”

Bay residents such as Bev and Neill Erickson have also come to the party by using downpipe rainwater from their roof into water tanks.

“All the water from showers in our household is piped to water tanks which we use for flushing toilets and for the garden. We use water from additional water tanks for the swimming pool.”

Municipal spokesperson Kupido Baron said: “We have been working with big business and different sector since previous droughts to not only conserve water but also to assist us to spread the message.

“We also communicated progress regarding our water augmentation programmes with the  business sector, a critical stakeholder, over the years.”

Baron said in line with the metro’s Water Masterplan, they envisage the following:

  1. to increase water treatment capacities if and when feasible,
  2. to increase bulk water transfer infrastructure,
  3. to ensure an effective repairs and maintenance programmes are in place,
  4. to address and minimise non-revenue water,
  5. to reduce all water leaks within the water system,
  6. to diversify water sources,
  7. to provide flexibility within the water reticulation system, and
  8. to provide water demand management and water conservation.