Alternative Water Supplies: Department briefing

Water and Sanitation

14 September 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


14 September 2005

Ms C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department PowerPoint Presentation on Broader Perspective on Alternative Water Services
Department Power Point Presentation on Alternative Water Supply
Department Power Point Presentation on Ground Water

The Department presented water supply alternatives and other feasible options to recover retail costs and improve the efficiency of existing water schemes. Groundwater was an important sustainable resource. Conservation practices and measures to reduce wastage could go a long way to reducing water requirements.

The Committee suggested the Department mix alternatives for different areas. Of particular concern were municipality capacity issues in measuring water quality and maintaining infrastructure.


Committee Programme planning
The Committee adopted its outstanding minutes and programme for the third Parliamentary session of 2005. They would start the fourth session with an analysis of Annual Reports, followed by public hearings on water allocation and Black Economic Empowerment in the forestry industry. Adoption of their last oversight visit report was postponed to allow Members the opportunity to study it.

Department briefing
Mr J van Rooyen, Department Senior Manager: National Water Resource Planning, presented on the broader perspectives of alternative water sources. Consideration had to be given to all options and possibilities of water sources. Cost was the main factor preventing the Department from using other alternatives and not the unavailability of resources or water.

They were faced with logistical challenges in towing icebergs. Shipping of water from the Zambezi or Congo River was possible but had cost implications compared to the desalination of seawater. A study had shown that large canals could be developed to transfer water from the Zambezi River for industrial use only. However, South Africa had no claim on the Zambezi River. It had also been proven that rainfall could be increased through cloud seeding and the Department was involved in its experimental stages. It was recommended that government take up the implementation costs which were estimated at R10 million a year for the next three years. Likely options were being used already, but problems of inefficient use of water and wastage made it difficult to increase the amount of water supplied.

Treated effluent was being used on the islands and not in the coastal areas. It was important treatment was done to proper standards and consideration had to be given to environmental implications before large-scale use. Desalination was used on a small scale but had huge potential in the coastal areas. Ground water was a very important resource for many rural towns and needed to be properly developed and managed. Basic research was being done to implement feasible options and to align strategies to Catchment Management Service (CMS), Provincial Government Development Strategies (PGDS) and Integrated Development Plans (IDPs).

Ms A Manus, Department Manager: Strategic Assessment, added that alternatives were necessary as Water Services Authorities were not able to recover cost at the retail level and also the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) could only provide so much. Utilisation of alternative sources and efficient use of water would improve the efficiency of the scheme. South Africa (SA) was using solar distillation and reverse osmosis methods for desalination. Reverse osmosis had huge potential as seawater was unlimited. Rainwater harvesting involved a simple technology, however had remained unpredictable and required large storage tanks. Cloud harvesting was suitable for mist prone areas; unfortunately only small amounts of water could be produced. Grey water recycling reduced demand for irrigation; however less water was returned to the system for downstream users. Water Conservation Management practices and other measures could reduce water requirements at little expense.

Sanitation technologies were also another way of saving water. DWAF was engaging Water Services Authorities (WSAs) through their IDPs and Water Services Development Planning (WSDP) process in considering the capital and operating funds required and if they could make allowance for replacement costs.

Mr B Aleobua, Department Deputy Director: Resource Planning, presented on sustainability of groundwater resources. It was cost effective to use quality groundwater and was the greatest source in the dry catchment areas. It was found in fractures and was now managed as a public resource. Quality deteriorated if pumped too much and resulted in pollution. Good management practice included measurement to check the extent of the water source and quality. Cost effective planning would ensure sustainable utilisation.

Mr T Ramphele (ANC) asked for clarity on the policy of the "polluter pays" and if it was working. Did municipalities have the capacity to deal with Treated Effluent? What was the international experience of desalination affecting ecological biodiversity?

Mr J Arendse (ANC) wanted clarity on potential legal issues with cloud seeding that had been referred to as "stealing of rain" and asked whether it had environmental and human impact. Environmentalists had raised concerns about inter-basin transfer for the removal of alien vegetation and he wanted to know if it did transfer to different ecological systems. What were the checks and balances in ensuring adherence to standards in reuse of reclaimed water or effluent, and ensuring it was not used for other purposes? Was there any use of groundwater in Cape Town?

Mr D Maluleka expressed concern about lack of educational programmes to ‘conscientise’ the public about issues of water conservation and preservation and felt the Department should partner with the Department of Education to ensure it at school level. He could not understand the excuse that it was not cost effective to divert water from the Atlantic Ocean into other areas using gravity flows. He felt it was achievable and that one could not put a price on it. The Department should consider a joint programme with other Southern African countries to look at that option.

The Chairperson commented that the Committee had noted the difficulty in transporting water from one province to other demarcated areas during their oversight visits. Water resources were shared among the nine provinces and he expressed concern about the reluctance of some provinces to share and asked to what extent the Department was developing an integrated plan to rethink water as a national resource. Did they have any working relationship with other departments? To what extent had provincial and municipal development of infrastructure taken into account water resources and did broad economic plans consider the reality of water supply?

Mr J van Rooyen answered that in terms of the polluter pays principle, the Department was busy with the waste discharge system and had published a strategy that was available to the public for comments before its implementation. They charged for effluent with a specific charge for the amount of pollution. Industrial users had responded by improving their discharge. Currently water taken out of the ocean was too little and one had to be careful where to draw water. The legality of cloud seeding was a matter for the courts to test, however it had possible implications for changes in rainfall and environmental effects. He was however not sure of any human impact. Inter basin transfer had transferred organisms from one catchment area to another with ecological impact. They were able to mitigate this by not putting the water in a river but in a pipeline. The Department’s Water Quality Manager made sure effluent complied with standards and it applied to industrial purposes. Assessing the impact of alien vegetation removal on the ecological system took time. There were three potential groundwater sources in Cape Town (Table Mountain, the Cape Flats and West Coast).

Owing to wastage of water in the current scheme it was not cost effective to bring in water from other sources in the short term. Water was a shared resource; however it took a lot of convincing for a transfer from one province to other catchments. They worked closely with provinces and had engaged them to make provision for water in their PGDS to ensure consistency in water plans. He could not answer the question on international experience on desalination affecting ecological biodiversity.

Mr D Kale, Department Chief Development Expert: Technical Assessment, added that they were involved in educational programmes targeted at school children and was working closely with the Department of Education to integrate it into the curriculum.

Mr W Moroka, SA Local Government Association (SALGA) Manager: Water Services, added that there had been an outcry of lack of capacity at the municipal level to ensure compliance with standards in operations and maintenance of water and sanitation. They had relied on the Department for skills to operate schemes. He felt they had to further interrogate the situation.

Ms D van der Walt (DA) said that perhaps the Department should consider a collaborative effort with the Departments of Public Works and Housing to enforce tanks for rainwater harvesting in high rainfall areas and for small emerging farmers. Wastage was a concern and existing infrastructure needed maintenance. She asked if biological methods for the removal of alien vegetation were working.

Mr M Sibuyana (IFP) expressed concern about the reluctance of countries in the region to share water resource and felt that as SA was sharing its resources such as ESKOM and TELKOM technology with the North it was only fair that they reciprocated in supplying SA with water. He wanted to know if the presentation was based on domestic research and why they were unable to supply emerging farmers and if they had engaged with them. In Limpopo, there was a place called ‘Nobody’ where the people had to break pipes because they did not have water, and he asked why they did not have water even though water passed through their pipes to other catchments.

Ms M Manama (ANC) asked about the safety of rainwater harvesting and policy standardisation in controlling the use of groundwater. Were people allowed to drill boreholes indiscriminately?

The Chairperson asked about the types of services being researched for municipalities and if they were the right services in terms of water quality or alternative use. How they had implemented water provision? She felt they needed to look at some African experience such as labour intensive desalination in Benin.

Mr T Ramphele requested a skills audit in the municipalities or districts for meeting the required safety levels for water. He asked for clarity on the causes of rising water levels in mines in and around Johannesburg. Was grey water recycling in its experimental or implementing stage and was it viable for sanitation? DWAF together with SALGA should develop a regulatory framework and strengthen the role of the municipalities to deal with issues of wastage, abnormal usage of water and water conservation.

Mr J Arendse asked about the degree of work being done to determine people’s preference for sanitation. Did the provinces have the capacity to test and measure the quality of borehole water?

Mr W Moraka responded that municipalities did not have a budget to assist small emerging farmers. They concentrated on water for human use. It was a challenge to assist emerging farmers and they were not providing for small-scale farmers. SALGA was of the view that the board of small-scale farmers needed to put forward their expectations regarding water supply. There were problems with skills availability because transfer had not been finalised. Sanitation was still a challenge. Municipalities had done a sanitation audit but the challenge lay with operations management. It was important to understand their needs. He mentioned that they had requested a roll-out in terms of technological capacity. SALGA had a partnership programme with DWAF called the Short Term Intervention Programme (STIP) in educating the public on water use but the challenge had been instituting the programmes at local level.

Mr J van Rooyen added that the use of tanks was not a cheap option and its enforcement would require subsidisation. It could work in high rainfall areas and there were other ways to harvest rainfall labour intensively but only for gardening. Municipalities needed financial incentives to maintain infrastructure and prevent wastage. Rainfall water was pretty safe but not suitable for drinking without purifying it. Biological agents were used to control alien plants and it was supplemented by spraying. It was true some areas received water while others did not, but it was not reason enough to destroy logistics.

Ms A Manus added that municipalities prioritised who got water first and needed to interrogate the process.

Ms B Aloebua added that the National Water Act changed the classification of groundwater as a private resource to a public resource that should be managed for the public good. It required authorisation and licensing. Government did not have the capacity. Below a certain level, households did not require a permit to drill boreholes.

Mr van Rooyen added that some municipal by-laws did not permit usage in households. General authorisation was required for some areas up to a certain limit. The Department would look into the Benin experience. Mines had lower water tables to enable mining and any subsequent rising of the table to its original level, coupled with pumping of groundwater caused destabilisation and as a result the rising levels of water. Open cast mines had caused sulphide to get into groundwater causing pollution; however this was receiving attention and the mines had been given directions for treatment. The Cape Town ‘grey water’ recycling project was in its implementation stage and they had been careful of contamination and the dangers and implications for soil.

Mr B Aleobua added that the results and challenges of grey water recycling were captured in the presentation. Currently 1500 units were using the technology. Ms A Manus added that it was not a viable option for sanitation in communities. The MIG user programmes should focus on viable options.

The Chairperson responded that the view of communities on sanitation was quite well known and was an ongoing process.

Mr D Maluleka felt the Department was not sensitive to disabled people as sanitation facilities were not user friendly.

Mr J Arendse asked if funding availability was a problem and why some systems were not suitable. Perhaps they should look at appropriate technologies for sanitation.

Mr B Aleobua said that, at the national level, a unit monitored the condition of water levels and quality. Municipal abstraction had an impact on the water level and was not used in future planning. They did not have enough capacity; therefore the failure to measure levels. At the regional level they made use of Catchment Management Agencies for future planning. There was an ongoing planning process to build boreholes near toilets.

Mr W Moraka said it was difficult to assist the communities in dealing with waterborne diseases.

Mr B Aleobua added that groundwater protocol encapsulated certain values. However, it was challenging to use protocols in planning water infrastructure to prevent contamination.

The Chairperson said it was important that alternative resources met deliverables in a coherent way. Different areas had different situations and she therefore suggested a mix of options. The skills problem was critical; however the problem would persist until transfer had been completed. The Committee would focus on problem areas in terms of water quality and maintenance.

The meeting was adjourned.


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