Water & sanitation infrastructure audit: Department of Water & Sanitation progress report, with Deputy Minister

Water and Sanitation

09 September 2015
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Water and Sanitation presented its report on the 2015 audit of water and sanitation infrastructure. It was acknowledged that a number of issues remained similar to the previous year, but the Department remained committed to tackling these issues and had made significant progress in a number of areas.

The presentation was concerned with three main areas -- the water resources infrastructure, the bulk water infrastructure and water services infrastructure. Emphasis was placed on past projects and the ongoing maintenance of them, as well as future projects in respect of bulk water infrastructure and water sanitation. The presentation was focused mainly on information at the national level, due to the fact that at the provincial level, the responsibility rested with local government, and statistics and figures were collected at this level.

Members raised several safety issues, ranging from dangerous animals such as hippos making access to river water hazardous, to open pipelines and canals running through towns. These concerns were noted and agreed upon by the Department.  There were concerns about the extent to which the state and the private sector owned the country’s water resources. The Department understood this concern but made clear that in the current economic situation, privatisation could be seen as a positive development. Members urged the Department to implement a systematic silt management programme.

Specific projects were targeted during the discussion period. The Department was asked about the Nooitgedacht water scheme in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, and the progress in terms of funding and the promises made by the Minister of the Department. Specific water and sanitation issues in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Free State were also raised and addressed by the Department.

Meeting report

Ms Pamela Tshwete, Deputy Minister, Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), said that many of the challenges faced by the Department remained the same. Last year, she had visited all the provinces and the same issues had arisen -- the infrastructure was ageing, there were problems with maintenance of this infrastructure, and vandalism remained a problem across all provinces. At their previous meeting, they had aimed to address these problems, and she commended the Portfolio Committee for making sure that the National Prosecuting Authority took the issue of vandalism seriously.

Ms Zandile Mathe, Deputy Director General, DWS, presented the progress report of the audit of water and sanitation infrastructure, which she said would cover the water resources infrastructure, the bulk water infrastructure (pipes from dams and canals) and water services infrastructure (the domain of local government). She stressed that there would be less focus on this third facet of the presentation, as this was an issue that was governed by the municipalities and would be elaborated upon as part of the Master Plan.

She said there was a need to update information on the dams, as there were a number of unregistered and unclassified dams. It was hoped the Department could add a number of these to its database. To date, it had registered 5 122 dams, which included category one to three dams. Category one included dams between five and 12 metres, category two included dams between 12 and 30 metres, and category three concerned dams of over 30 metres.

There were 320 dams in the water resources scheme, including transfer schemes, and these were both multi-use and irrigation only, depending on the dam.

She briefly mentioned irrigation water schemes and the distribution of assets at both state and provincial level, considering pipelines, tunnels, bridges, canals, rivers and dams, as well as reservoirs, water towers, pump stations and building points. The distribution of assets was largely given to building dams and weirs, followed by canals. Specific figures were also provided. It was stressed that some figures were fragmented due to the fact that the Department had had to wait for the figures from the provinces.

The presentation covered all of the water and sanitation projects completed from 2007 to date at an overall cost of R3.249 bn. This was further broken down by province. The water services infrastructure was described, including municipal water schemes, water services and sanitation infrastructure, and waste water treatment works.

Ms Mathe said it was important that the Department did not consider only a small area, and then move on shortly afterwards, as it had to offer sustained support in terms of water infrastructure. It was necessary to take bulk water plants into the villages as well, even though this strained resources.

Progress was being made by planners in regard to the challenges faced by the Free State in respect of pipelines and accessing water sources,

The Chairperson commented that he had expected to hear about the value of the dams within the infrastructure. He said there was a potential issue in regard to the state owning the entirety of the water in South Africa. He asked to what extent water was owned by the public sector and the private sector respectively.

Mr L Basson (DA) asked about the canal system, raising a concern about the open pipes running through towns and villages and the associated dangers of children drowning.

He said there was a huge problem in the Cradock area, where there were issues with pollution in the rivers and as a result it had been almost a year that the community had not had any water. The fact that the plants and sewerage system did not work was a concern.

He mentioned the Mokola Crocodile water augmentation project, which was in its second phase. Quoting a number of figures from Eskom, he was worried that with a project costing R13 billion, there was a 4.5 million cubic metre shortfall, and the water produced would not cover the need for six times more water than was currently being produced. He also asked for further information on the project and an end date for it. He asked about the Nooitgedacht scheme, saying that the Committee had been informed that the R380 million had been made available.

Mr T Makondo (ANC) also wanted to know who owned the country’s water. He asked whether the figures given on dams included those built by farmers, and how the issue of ownership was being dealt with in that regard. He referred to the three water schemes that the Department was involved with in Limpopo and talked about the recent problems of workers and strike action in the area, and his concern that this would cause problems in other provinces. One of the plants had been switched off, and this had caused water shortages in two districts. This was an issue. He talked about the rainfall in Mpumalanga and the lack of infrastructure there to capitalize on it. He felt that one of the biggest issues here was communication, and this needed to be attended to.

Mr D Mnguni (ANC) asked for specific information and statistics on dams per province. He wanted clarification on the number of unregistered dams and whether the Department would actively collect more data on this for the infrastructure. He raised the issue of golf course water supply, and asked whether this was included in the figures for infrastructure that had been presented. He also asked about the building of small dams in rural areas and the plans surrounding the conservation of water.

Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) said he had a concern about building dams in communally-owned areas, especially in terms of drought, where it was necessary to travel long distances to access water.  He gave an example of a situation where water rights belonged to an individual and the people who lived in the surrounding areas could not benefit, as it was meant for irrigation. He also commented on commercial farmers in the area, saying that the smaller farms were disadvantaged and wished to know if the Department helped these people with the irrigation of their fields.

Ms T Baker (DA) asked for more information on the Water Master Plan, and when it was likely to be completed. She felt that it should be fast tracked. She mentioned the Spring Grove dam, explaining how the costs had increased while the Department had been doing the project, and that this had resulted in increased tariffs for the end users. She asked how the costs could be offset.

She was concerned about the silt levels in the dams. A silt management strategy should be standard practice for all of the dams. It was not a new problem and that instead of spending millions of rand on raising the walls, the maintenance and increase in capacity could solve this problem for less money.

She asked for an update on the success of the Intermediate Biological Programme.

Ms Baker referred to two dams in Mpumalanga, which have been reported as dry. She said that water then had to be pumped from another dam to serve the local communities and there was not sufficient capacity for this to be sustainable. With low rainfall, this could very easily become a crisis.

Ms M Khawula (EFF) spoke in Xhosa, which was translated. She asked the Department who were fixing the pipelines and who were responsible for municipalities’ failures. She had concerns about access to water, citing instances where people had been prevented from reaching water by animals such as hippos. She emphasized the importance of dams and the need to build more, but said it was important that it was not only wealthy farmers who benefited, but also all of society.

The Chairperson said he had heard of the issue of having to raise the dam walls, and understood this was a challenge. He also wanted to know about the water situation at golf courses and if there was an extra charge for water in rural areas. 

He again brought up the issue of privatisation. In Limpopo, 82% of water went to the farmers. He asked if any other provinces followed this model. He asked how the water from the government was treated until it went to the river, after which it would be distributed mostly to farmers. He wanted to know more about this process. He asked about the cost of putting up a water treatment or water waste treatment plant. He had seen examples in the past where plants could be created for as little R80 000, and wondered what the costs were on a national scale.

Ms Mathe said that while she would endeavor to answer as many questions as possible at the meeting, the Department would answer some questions in writing.

She responded to the issue of canals posing a danger to young people, and commented that following an incident in the North West province, the Department needed to address the situation through a canal rehabilitation programme.

She said that Mokolo Crocodile scheme, as it stands, was a R12 billion project. There had been discussions over whether the capacity should be 100 million cubic metres or 75 million cubic metres, but due to cost restrictions, they had gone for the latter. They hoped that it would be possible to make the project bigger in the future, with more resources.

The Nooitgedacht scheme would be completed in due course, but it would take time.

She noted the issue of rainwater, and commented on the importance of knowing who owned the water at any given time. In relation to the question about shortages of water in local areas, there was not such a need to use boreholes, and it was preferable to use the multi-purpose dams already in place.

Regarding the query on the tariff being linked to the cost of the infrastructure, the Deputy Director General said that this would always be the case -- the final price of water for the end user would be linked to what the plants and dams had cost to build.

On the issue of silt management, she was in agreement that it should be a primary concern of the leadership. It was the hope of the Department that an agreement could be reached and signed by the end of the year about silt management. Until then, she was unable to comment further.

The illegal sand mining question would be responded to in writing at a later date. This was a very difficult issue and the necessary strategies were very expensive, but she wanted to make it clear that something was happening in that regard.

She would come back to the issue of the cost of water treatment plants in writing.

She dealt with the question on privatization by saying that as yet, the government had been extremely conservative in terms of privatizsing water supplies and infrastructure. She said that this was an issue, in that there was a deficit at the moment, so in order to bridge that gap they would have to embrace more privatization or think outside of the box for another solution. She said that the current model was not working, and that the private sector -- with R600 million to invest -- could be a useful asset.

She said that all other unanswered questions would be responded to in writing.

Mr Basson asked for more details on the Nooitgedacht scheme. He asked specifically whether the government would fund it, as he knew that Nelson Mandela Bay were unable to afford the project. He knew that it had started, but wanted more details.

Ms Baker asked about water conservation and demand strategies, using Pixley ka Seme as an example, where there had not been a strategy since 2012. She asked for a follow up there, to see if there was a suitable strategy now. She also spoke more generally about the importance of these types of strategies and conveyed her opinion that in fact this should become a nationwide strategy to tackle the whole problem and save water, which would consequently save money.

Ms Tshwete asked the Deputy Director General to address the golf course water supply issue.

The Deputy Minister talked about the problem of drought in KwaZulu-Natal and how there was a need for water tankers to transport the water in order to supply the rural areas. She commented on how every part of planning houses now had to be related to water in order to make sure that the supply could be maintained for a long enough time.

The Master Plan could not be updated yet, as there was still information to be received from the provinces. She talked about the establishment of an enforcement unit to deal with the issue of illegal sand mining.

Ms Mathe said that the golf water supply question would be answered in writing, as it was not a concern directly related to water infrastructure.

She said she was in agreement with Mr Basson on the Nooitgedacht scheme, and conceded that there were a number of funding issues. The Department had been told that it would be ready in the next three years, and she had some more details which she would convey to him in writing.

Ms Khawula raised the issue of drought and the disparity of the effects of such issues.

Mr Basson raised the issue of the cost of treatment plants. He was concerned that the Department was not up to date with new technologies that could potentially save the government millions of rand. He expressed an interest in having a scientist come to explain to the Committee some of the updated technologies, with a view to using them. He gave examples of how newer technology had produced the same amount of water, but at a fraction of the price in Witbank, and this had meant that water prices were much lower for the locals.

The Chairperson agreed that it would be useful to meet with the private sector to discuss ideas.Both the Department and private individuals could do more research to come up with solutions to the problems discussed at the meeting.

Ms Mathe said that the Department took a keen interest in cost-saving measures. It was important to see what was out there, what kind of volumes were at play and whether there were viable options for large scale projects. She stressed that value was also very important as the quality still had to be good in order to ensure they did not have to replace plants too often.

The meeting was adjourned.

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