Water infrastructure, flooding impact and management: Department of Water Affairs briefing

Water and Sanitation

26 January 2011
Chairperson: Mr J De Lange (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water Affairs (the Department) gave three presentations to the Committee. The first presentation, on the state of water infrastructure, outlined the current state of water infrastructure, noting that there were 359 dams on the asset register that would need to be maintained, of which over 200 were listed as major dams. The reasons for rehabilitation included insufficient spillway capacity, slope stability problems, inadequate maintenance resulting in dam safety problems, geological or foundational problems and inadequate outlet systems. There was still a problem in that many communities lived in close proximity to water resources and networks, yet did not have access to sufficient and safe water for their basic needs. It was noted that the budget allocations of R893 million for 2010/11 would rise substantially in the following three years. Members noted that in view of the large increase in budget, the work of the Department should also increase, but questioned its capacity. Several Members expressed their concern that whilst many dams had formerly been built in certain areas, there were many that still lacked any dams and there was a need to get a report to evaluate how budgeting and spending patterns inherited from the apartheid regime had changed. Members asked that discussions around bulk regional infrastructure be strengthened, and asked for comment on various dams where there were safety issues, or seemed to be lack of progress. Members commented that the Department had consistently complained about lack of skills, but had not given any demonstration of programmes to raise skills, and failed to explain why it was still employing those who were not properly equipped to do the work. Members, and the Department, agreed that it was unacceptable for those living near dams not to have access to water. They questioned the jobs to be created and asked that the good report be translated into good practice, and that the Department should highlight the challenges as well as successes.

The next presentation highlighted the impact of current rainfall and flooding on Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in Gauteng. The high rainfall/flooding led to increased ingress of water into mine workings via surface streams, shallow groundwater systems, and open pit mining. This led to increased mine water levels and decant of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD). The intervention recommendations included reducing ingress by pit filling and canalising watercourses in the Western Basin, reduction of ingress by canalising streams over mining areas and sealing of mine paths in the Central Basin, and immediate expansion of culverts in Blesbok Spruit to reduce water entering the mine in the Eastern Basin. Members were concerned about untreated water, the results already shown on aquatic life, and the distinct possibility of pump failures, and asked what the Department itself was doing while awaiting a Cabinet decision. The Committee said that these challenges offered the opportunity for strong leadership in the Department and urged the Department to ensure that measures were taken to enforce compliance by mines and to act against transgressors.

The final presentation gave an update on recent floods in the country and Flood Management in the Vaal River System. The National Office was responsible for the flood management of the Vaal and Orange River System, which compromised 49% of the total area of South Africa. Daily updates on dams were given, and the Minister had issued a press statement as to the response, and had set R20 million aside for repairing water resources infrastructure. Assessment of damages was still continuing. It was noted that more rainfall was expected up to March 2011, whilst Southern and Western Cape, were currently experiencing drought. Flood warnings could provide the opportunity for protection of lives and property, as well as planning evacuation and emergency services provision. The volumes of water through the dams, and current capacity, were outlined, and it was noted that incorrect or poor dam operation could lead to substantial costs in damages.
Members felt that the Department was not visible enough, and had to do more to inform people. Members enquired why, despite being made aware of the potential of flooding in August 2010, it had done little until December 2010. Members accepted that the Department had difficulties with dams not under its control but urged that it could deal with this through better communication. Members asked about the effectiveness of the National Disaster Management Centre, said lessons could be learned from other countries, and once again stressed that it was important to enforce compliance with building regulations. The Department was urged also to attend to problems of leadership, financial management and billing.

Meeting report

Department of Water Affairs briefings
State of Water Infrastructure
Dr Cornelius Ruiters, Deputy Director General: Water Resources and infrastructure, Department of Water Affairs, gave a presentation to the Committee on the state of water infrastructure. He noted that the infrastructure development that had been completed since 2004 included the Mooi Mgeni transfer (KZN 2004), Xikundu Weir and WTW (Limpopo 2005), Morgenston Jericho Pumpstation (Mpumalanga 2005), Nandoni Dam (Limpopo 2005), Raising flag Boshieno Dam (Limpopo 2006), Berg Water Project (Western Cape 2008), VRESAP PIPELINE (GP and MP 2010), and the Nandoni WTW (Limpopo 2008). The major water resource infrastructure development projects were the Olifants River Water Resources Development Project, Komati Water System Augmentation Project, Mooi Mngemi Transfer Scheme (phase 2), Hazemere Dam, Clanwilliam Dam, Vaal River Eastern Sub System Augmentation Project, Mokolo and the Crocodile River (West) Augmentation project.

Dr Ruiters noted that the Dam Safety Rehabilitation Programme (DSRP) was concerned with 359 dams on the asset register, and noted that 218 of those dams were listed on the ICOLD World Register of large dams. The rehabilitation work had been completed on 22 dams, while 36 dams were still in various stages of design or construction. Rehabilitation was carried out for various reasons; in 80% it was done due to insufficient spillway capacity of 80%, to rectify slope stability problems in 10%, and to correct inadequate maintenance, resulting in dam safety problems, in 60%. 10% showed geological or foundational problems, whilst 80% showed inadequate outlet systems of 80%. The total expenditure up to September 2010 was R1.2 million, with 58 dams on the programme.

Dr Ruiters noted that the Department of Water Affairs (DWA or the Department) had a strategy on access to water for basic use of dams. Many Communities in the rural areas, who lived in close proximity to water resources and networks, yet still did not have access to access to sufficient and safe water to fulfil their basic needs. This issue was of serious concern for the DWA. It had thus decided that urgent action should be taken to ensure that the basic constitutional rights of those communities were fulfilled. The final output of this project would be a report identifying the communities without access to basic water for domestic use. This report would also provide potential solutions to the identified service delivery problem.

The aim of the Regional Bulk Infrastructure was to develop an oversight and support function that would ensure the development, operations, and maintenance of regional bulk infrastructure in the water sector. The Department had started 109 projects since the 2007/08 financial year. 50 projects were implemented and were under construction, design or tender phase. The budget allocation had been R893 million for the 2010/11 financial year, and the figures for the following years to 2013 were tabled (see attached presentation for details).

The Chairperson noted that the budget had almost doubled for the 2011/12 financial year and said that the work that needed to be done should similarly be doubled. He asked if the Department had the capacity to deal with the budget effectively.

The Chairperson noted that during a recent helicopter flight he had undertaken over Kokstad and the former Transkei, he had noted that although there were many dams in the former area, there were none in the Transkei areas. He therefore wished to ask for a thorough report to evaluate how the budgeting and spending pattern inherited from the apartheid regime had been changed.

Mr R Morgan (DA) said that it seemed that the Department had a good idea of what needed to be done and what had been done. He requested that the discussion on regional bulk infrastructure be encouraged.

Mr Morgan asked about the challenge of skills shortage and how this impacted on service delivery and the completion of projects.

Mr Morgan asked the Department to comment on the safety issues regarding the Clanwilliam Dam.

Mr Morgan suspected that the Department was following instead of leading, and expressed his concern on how decisions from other departments influenced how its budget was spent. He did not see the Department as an equal player in the process and feared that the huge budget received might be spent on other issues. He was in favour of redressing the way in which the apartheid regime focussed on building infrastructure.

Ms D Ndude (COPE) asked what plans the Department had in place to attract skills, especially engineers.

Ms Ndude also thought that the Department was not committed in investing and building in previously disadvantaged areas. It was sad to see how most people from the rural areas were struggling to get water while other areas had plenty of dams. She asked if the Department identified places in the Eastern Cape rural areas where dams could be built. She was also not happy that some people who stayed next to dams did not benefit from the water. She noted that the Eastern Cape had been identified for infrastructure development, and asked over what period the development would take place. South Africa had nine provinces and different population numbers per province. Some provinces had more dams than others. She asked if this represented fair distribution of water for ordinary South Africans.

Mr J Skosana (ANC) acknowledged that the report looked very good in theory but this was not necessarily borne out by what the Department was actually achieving.

Mr Skosana noted that the report mentioned two different dates of completion for the Nandoni Dam; one in 2005 and the other in 2008. He asked which date was correct and what was meant by “completion of project”. He also noted that many problems were raised regarding the Jozini Dam. He asked for a report and wanted to know what was happening there.

Mr Skosana asked where the new dams would be built. He noted that the Vaal River Eastern Sub system Augmentation Project and the Hazelmere Dam were mentioned, but there was no indication of how many jobs these created.

Mr Skosana noted that some slides indicated that the country had a rich infrastructure. He asked why the country had a shortage of water and who was responsible for reservoirs. He asked what caused the decrease in service delivery and wanted assurances that the Department would take care of the rural areas and people who did not have access to water. He asked in which province the Department had started to implement its plan.

Ms C Zikalala (IFP) noted that the Jozini Dam project was approved, money was allocated and there was even a breakdown on how work would be done. She asked Dr Ruiters to explain what happened with the project. She reiterated that the Committee represented the poor communities and it expected the Department to deliver. The Department needed skilled engineers because there were many engineers that were not skilled and therefore could not perform. She asked why the Department employed unskilled people who could not perform.

Ms Zikalala asked Dr Ruiters to prioritise attending to people from the rural areas. She asked for an explanation why people in the Eastern Cape had taps with no water and why they thus still had to access their water directly from rivers.

Ms J Manganye (ANC) asked if the Department was working alongside other departments. She noted that there had been constant complaints from the Department, since 1994, about the skills shortages, and asked why the projects that had been implemented to develop skills were not visible on paper. She asked for reports about the Department’s successes and challenges so that the Committee could know how to assist.

Ms Manganye also asked if the Department was forced to give some municipalities the authority and responsibility to provide and regulate water.
Dr S Huang (ANC) noted that the successes of the Department were outlined, but saw no reference to its challenges.

Dr Huang noted the figures for job creation of 6 017 jobs and asked in which financial year this occurred. The Department did not include the amount of jobs created by two of its projects. He asked why so few jobs were created at the Olifants River, where R17 million was spent. He asked where the money came from for some projects.
Dr Ruiters answered the questions by grouping the queries together.

He said that the he would provide the Committee with the dam safety measures, outlined for each province, as the information was available.

Dr Ruiters answered the questions about the projects by saying that most of the new and current projects were mainly for rural communities, such as the Olifants River water project. He agreed that it was unacceptable that people living in rural areas had to visit the rivers to get water.

In respect of specific projects, he reported that the Nandoni Dam was completed in 2005, but that additional work was completed in 2008. There was currently a case in progress regarding some faulty pipes at this Dam and he could not comment further on the issue. The Vaal River project created about 800 jobs and recently came to an end. He could engage members further on the numbers of jobs created per project. The Jozini Dam project was supposed to have started already and he was going to find out what caused the delay and when this project would start. He would personally give an answer on its progress. He said that he did make the Department’s challenges known to the Committee. The jobs created were listed for the entire period of the projects. Loans were used to fund certain projects. The Clanwilliam Dam needed to be raised.

The Chairperson noted there was a massive shift in the government focus in regard to water, which was why this Committee had to relook and rethink this sector. He was of the opinion that policies must be based on scientific evidence. He asked the Department to provide a report on optimal institutional arrangements, and an audit report on the Department’s capacity to deal with the doubling of its budget. Water and dams in a particular area created opportunities for other developments. He also asked for a report on where new water infrastructure projects would be created, and a further report identifying those areas where people lived close to dams, yet did not benefit from the water. He asked the Department for a list of sourced documents that could help the Committee to take its work further.

Presentation on Impact of Current Rainfall/Flooding on the Acid Mine Drainage in Gauteng
Mr Mbangiseni Nepfumbada, Acting Deputy Director-General: Policy and Regulation, DWA, gave a presentation on the impact of current rainfall and flooding on the existing problems of Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in Gauteng. He said that the recent high rainfall and flooding led to increased ingress of water into mine workings via surface streams, shallow groundwater systems, and open pit mining. This led to increased mine water levels and decant of AMD. The status of the Western Basin in the West Rand indicated zero-AMD decant or relatively small volumes of approximately 2 ml per day in the dry season and an AMD decant of 15.5 ml per day in December 2010, which rose to 30 ml per day in January 2011. This impacted on the Tweelopies Spruit flowing to the Crocodile River system, but recent fish deaths were not due to AMD.

The status of the Central Basin in Central Johannesburg recorded mine water rises of 0.3 metres (m) per day in the dry season and 0.9 m per day during the wet season. The current rate of rise was between 0.37 and 0.47 m per day. Despite the high rainfall, the rate of rise was less pronounced, due to delayed ingress or greater void volume at 500 metres below surface level. The status of the Eastern Basin in East Rand indicated that recent rainfall had increased rate of mine water rise to 0.4 metres per day and the pump station could flood within 16 days at this rate. The Grootvlei Mine had reported urgent measures that were under way to increase its pumping capacity.

The intervention recommendations included reducing ingress by pit filling and canalising watercourses in the Western Basin, ingress reduction by canalising streams over mining areas and sealing of mine paths in the Central Basin, and immediate expansion of culvert in Blesbok Spruit to reduce water entering the mine in the Eastern Basin. These recommendations had been included in a Cabinet Memorandum, which would be processed shortly.

Mr Morgan said the mine water coming from the Grootvlei mine was untreated and the pump was in a terrible state and posed many dangers. The pump could fail at any time and there was already a huge amount of destruction to aquatic life. He asked if there was a lead person on Acid Mine Drainage that could also take the lead on related issues.

Ms Ndude said that issues related to AMD were currently being seriously debated, as this posed many challenges to the environment.

Ms Manganye said the Committee was very shocked when hearing of the Aurora Mine, and asked what the Department itself was doing while it was waiting on Cabinet to pronounce on the issues. She did not see any mechanisms in place to ensure that the water was cleaned.

Mr Nepfumbada said the Grootvlei mine was currently under investigation and he would inform the Committee about its progress.

Ms Thandeka Mbassa, Acting Director General, DWA, said that most of the issues raised by the Committee had been brought already to the Department’s attention, and recommendations had been made by the many stakeholders involved.

Mr Morgan said the challenges offered an opportunity for leadership in the Department and asked the Department to support the newly appointment Minister in her task.
The Chairperson asked the Department to engage the Minister on the various issues. The Department should ensure that there were sufficient steps taken against the Boards of the various mines, to deal with transgressions and enforce compliance. He asked for the names of all the mines where transgressions took place and said the Committee would call them to Parliament if necessary.

Ms Ndude asked about the outcome of the report from the task team that was appointed by the previous Minister.

Management of Floods/Disaster
Mr Zacharia Maswuma, Director: Hydrological Services, DWA, provided an update on recent floods in the country. The National office was responsible for the flood management of the Vaal and Orange River System which covered Gauteng, Free State, North West and the Northern Cape. This system compromised 49% of the total area of South Africa. The National office also monitored and coordinated information on floods that had occurred on other river systems that impacted neighbouring countries like Mozambique and Namibia.

He reported that the uThukela District Municipality water abstraction pumping station in Bergville (KwaZulu Natal) had become submerged. Tankering was proposed as an intervention, and an estimated cost of R900 000 was required. The Lekwa Teemane Local Municipality in North West also reported that its water abstraction pumping station was submerged. Various waterborne diseases were reported, and there was a funding requirement not yet quantified for health and hygiene campaigns. Areas affected by floods in the Free State were Fouriesburg, Bethlehem, Rosendal and Clarens in the Dihlabeng Local Municipality. Loose pumps and motors had been washed away, and funding was required to repair pumps at an estimated cost of R1.5 million. Kroonstad, Viljoenskroon and Steynsrus (Free State) were the affected areas in the Moqhaka Local Municipality. The raw water pump station flooded, and water infrastructure was damaged. Funding was still required.  The flooding of the raw water pump station and damage to the water infrastructure caused floods in the Nala Local Municipality. The pump station here became blocked and overflowed in Wepener and Dewertsdorp. This also affected the treatment plant.

The areas affected in Limpopo were Capricon, Vhembe, Waterberg, Mopani, and Sekhukhune. These areas were historically affected by cholera outbreaks that usually followed the flood season. Portable treatment plants, cholera packs and community awareness campaigns were used as intervention strategies. The floods caused major damage in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape. Water levels were still very high in most cases, and assessment work on damages was ongoing. It was important to note that the major concerns in the Eastern and Western Cape, on the other hand, were drought.

The Department did daily updates on the situation at the four large dams in the Vaal Orange River system. The update on 26 January 2011, at 14:00, indicated that the Vaal Dam capacity was at 100%; the Bloemhof Dam at 92%; the Gariep Dam at 115%, which was predicted to increase three days later to 123%, and the Vanderkloof Dam was predicted to increase from its current 110% capacity to 116% on 31 January 2011. The Minister issued a press statement on how the Department was responding on disaster, and had put R20 million aside for repairing of water resources infrastructure. Assessment of damages was still continuing whilst river levels were lowering. The Department was providing information, on a daily basis, on river flow levels and weekly state of dams. The information was also accessible to the public on the internet. More rainfall was still expected in most parts of the country towards March 2011.

Flood management in the Vaal River System
The presentation on flood management in the Vaal River System indicated that management of extreme floods in the Vaal / Orange River system was an event driven activity done by the Department of Water Affairs in consultation with South African Weather Service (SAWS) on daily weather information, in conjunction with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC). The “Flood Room” in Pretoria served as an information centre to collect, process and distribute rainfall, stage and flow data.
Information was then sent through to NDMC daily, as well as to other institutions.  The main objectives of flood management were to protect the life of people and to minimise infrastructure damage, as well as to ensure that the dams were 100% full at the end of the flood. Rainfall runoff, flood routing and dam optimisation models were used to operate Vaal Dam. The aim was to minimise the flow in the system and to get rid of excess water in the system as soon as possible.

Flood warnings could provide time for people to take action to protect their property as well as allowing emergency services to prepare and plan for evacuations and other emergency actions. In the recent floods, almost double the volume of Vaal Dam and four times the volume of Bloemhof Dam flowed through the dams. Short, medium and long term weather forecasts, satellite and radar images and 24 hour rainfall figures played a major role in operating decisions during the flood.  Apart from possible dam failure and loss of life, incorrect or poor dam operation could lead to billions of rands worth of flood damage. It was noted that the Zuikerbosch and Vereeniging pump stations were insured for about R 2.4 billion, and property along the river in Vereeniging was insured for about R 10.2 billion.

The Chairperson asked what the Department did to make itself known to the public. He asked if the entity had a system that fed information and create awareness of possible dangers.

Ms Mava Scott, Communications Officer, DWA, said the Communications unit of the Department existed to manage information flow to the community. The information was updated on a daily basis, although he agreed that perhaps the entity should enhance its television and media systems.

Mr P Mathebe (ANC) said that Government was given a warning as early as August 2010 about the catastrophic situation. He asked why the Department attended to the threat only in December.

Ms Manganye said that one of the challenges for the Department lay in the dams it could not control. She asked the Department to communicate better with municipalities and communities about issues that might affect them.

Mr Morgan said that South Africans should have taken the recent floods more seriously. He noted Mr Mathebe’s comment that Government received a warning about the flooding threat in August 2010. He asked why the dams were allowed to be 100% full or close to full at that time of the year. He said that heavy rainfall would be expected in the Southern and Western Cape this coming winter and asked how the Department was engaging with those regions. He asked for the Department’s honest assessment on the effectiveness of the National Disaster Management Centre. He asked if it had enough and proper staff.  He asked if the Department communicated with farming communities like Agriculture South Africa.

Mr S Huang (ANC) said the Department must learn from countries like Australia and the USA how they dealt with disaster management. He noted that many of the pumps were faulty, and asked how then the water would be pumped out.

Ms Manganye said that the best disaster management she had seen was in Pretoria. She asked how much damage was done to the infrastructure as a result of the floods.

Dr Ruiters said that the Gariep and Vanderkloof dams were designed with spillways for free flow. The dams also had emergency spillways and generated hydro-electricity for Eskom.

Mr Maswuma said that no development should take place within the floodlines, because this became difficult for the Department to manage. He did not know who gave people permission to build in those areas, noting that many developments had to be removed.

The Chairperson said that issues regarding compliance must be in place.  People should be put to terms when they transgressed.

Mr Maswuma said there would be loss of revenue when the Department dropped the water level in the dams, and the process included various stakeholders. He said that every flood was a learning experience for the Department. The Department usually provided AgriSA with information daily and AgriSA requested that more water be kept in the Vaal dam. However, it would have created more danger if the Department yielded to Agri SA’s request.

The Chairperson said that communications from the Department should be improved and it should explain to the people why and how water in dams was controlled. He said that the rest of the reports would be presented at another occasion. There should be a degree of accountability and transparency from the Department. The Department had to solve its leadership problems, financial management and billing system. The Department also had to correct and take leadership on issues of compliance.

Ms Mbassa agreed that the Department had to look introspectively at the issues and concerns raised, and consider how it could better its performance. She emphasised the importance of water in an emerging economy, and assured the Committee that the Department would take all recommendations into consideration.

The meeting was adjourned.

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