Residents collect water in a crisis at Mandela Village in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga. Municipalities have made little progress in meeting conservation targets. Picture: Antonio Muchave/ Sowetan
Residents collect water in a crisis at Mandela Village in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga. Municipalities have made little progress in meeting conservation targets. Picture: Antonio Muchave/ Sowetan

SA will run out of water by 2030 unless it improves its management of the precious resource, MPs heard on Wednesday.

"Water availability could deteriorate as supply contracts and demand escalates due to growth, urbanisation, inefficient use, degradation of wetlands, water losses and the negative impacts of climate change," said the department of water affairs & sanitation’s deputy director-general for strategic and emergency projects, Trevor Balzer, as he sketched a picture of a sector in crisis.

There were problems at every step of the value chain, from poorly managed water sources to unfettered demand from users, he told parliament’s portfolio committee on water & sanitation in a briefing on the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan.

Municipalities had made little progress in meeting water conservation targets set in the National Development Plan, yet Cape Town’s water management amid a severe drought showed consumers could change their behaviour, he said.

The City of Cape Town drove consumption down to 80l per person per day, considerably lower than the current average municipal consumption level of 237l per person per day. The world average is 173l per person per day, he said.

Balzer said SA had lost more than half of its wetlands and almost a third of those that were left were in a poor condition.

The number of rivers in poor ecological condition had increased fivefold from 1999 to 2011, and some rivers were beyond recovery, he said.

More than half (54%) of SA’s municipal waste water treatment works were in a dismal state and needed urgent rehabilitation, and 11% of waste water works were dysfunctional, polluting the environment and increasing the cost of water treatment, he said.

Balzer emphasised the importance of water for economic development, noting that municipalities consume 27% of the country’s water yet account for three-quarters of GDP.

Demand for water would outstrip supply by 17% by 2030, constituting a "water deficit" of between 2.7-billion cubic metres and 3.8-billion cubic metres a year, he said.

The agriculture sector, which used the most water (about 61%), had to use water much more efficiently, he said.

SA relied too heavily on surface water, which constituted 73% of the total available yield, and had to diversify its water mix to include greater supplies from other sources, such as ground water and desalination.

Earlier in the day MPs called for water infrastructure to be declared national key points, following this week’s disruption to water supplies in Johannesburg. National key points are strategic sites that are provided with additional security.

A fire at Rand Water’s Eikenhoff pump station on Monday night left large parts of Johannesburg without water, forcing Johannesburg Water to provide water to residents via tankers.

MPs said water infrastructure was frequently vandalised and needed greater protection. "[The fire at] Rand Water is not an isolated event. It is a serious crisis that is confronting the whole country, said chair Lulu Johnson.

Water & sanitation minister Gugile Nkwinti told MPs he had raised the issue of declaring water infrastructure national key points with President Cyril Ramaphosa. "There is a positive response," he said.

Nkwinti said he would raise the issue of vandalism with unions, as it had become commonplace for striking workers to damage water infrastructure.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za