Department on Water Conservation: briefing

Water and Sanitation

01 November 2006
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

1 November 2006

    Ms C September (ANC)

The State of Water Use Efficiency in South Africa

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry briefed the Committee on water efficiency and conservation methods and the associated challenges and possible solutions the department has been investigating. The Committee objected that their presentation was a virtual repeat of an August 2005 briefing.
The Committee was firm in its insistence that more could be done in the way of education and user awareness and highlighted the department’s lack of delivery. The Committee felt the responsibility for the massive maintenance backlog should be with local government and municipal level and that the role of the department should be more to facilitate efforts to conserve water and conduct studies to identify problem areas.


Chairperson’s introduction

The Chairperson opened the meeting by noting that South Africa was a water scarce country and that therefore water conservation was of vital importance. She said that she had received the program for the first term of 2007 and noted that although the proposed training of the Committee on water law with the Water Research Commission had fallen through she hoped that it might be retabled next year. She said that the Committee would meet the following week to look at the relevant budget adjustments outlined in the Medium Term Budget Policy speech given by Finance Minister Trevor Manual last week as well as asking members to make suggestions on the contents of the Committee’s Annual Report.

Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) presentation

The Chair introduced Mr Cain Chunda (Deputy Director: Efficiency, DWAF) and Mr Chabedi Tsatsi (Water Demand Specialist at DWAF). Mr Chunda presented a piece on water use efficiency in South Africa, its problems and possible solutions.

Mr Chunda said that after a presentation to the Committee last August the department had conducted an investigation into the issue of water use efficiency and had concluded that this sector realised significant water losses. Monitoring was crucially important to the sector as South Africa was a water scarce country and due to the uneven distribution of the resource there were large transfer distances. He explained that when investigating this issue, water losses had been divided into three categories: apparent losses (such as unauthorised consumption); real losses (due to leaks etc.) and unbilled authorised consumption. He showed that municipalities faced an increasing demand for water and that further augmentation of the scheme would be needed to meet demand as well as an analysis as to where this demand would be coming from. His presentation contained a water balance model which indicated a breakdown of revenue and non-revenue water. Only 40% of the water resources consumed were efficiently used.

He showed that if these losses could be stopped then about R15 billion in non-revenue water alone could be saved. Mr Chunda indicated that after extensive research into efficient systems and after visiting countries and regions where water usage was efficient his team had concluded that the real causes of this inefficiency was a lack of dedicated financial services and a lack of institutional commitment and regulatory tools. As a solution to this the department had come up with the following: to target water resource planning (in order to achieve efficiency levels before additional dams were built); water use authorisation; water pricing (such as the phasing out of declining block tariffs and capping of water prices for agricultural purposes which contradict the conservation ethos the department was trying to instill) and finally water services. He said that he believed that major obstacles for progress included the lack of dedicated staff to work on this problem. He said that the department was currently working on implementation support for many of the water management associations (WMAs) in support of water allocation reform as well as support for municipalities. He mentioned that huge savings could be made by only addressing the wastage aspect of this issue through simple maintenance procedures and the like.

Recommendations from his team to combat the wastage included
developing National Regulations for water conservation (WC) and water demand management (WDM) whereby the monitoring, responsibility and accountability aspects of the process would come into play. As well as this the department had come up with the idea of a national Water Demand Revolving Fund to combat the problem of the lack of dedicated financial services. Measures to target actual leakages included “quick fixes” such as pressure management and leak location and repair whilst further actions could include education on water conservation and addressing the maintenance backlog. He showed that the return on investment on conservation schemes were huge, such as the Emfuleni local municipality which invested R8 million in WDM and saved over R24 million per annum


The Chair said that she felt that “nothing had changed” since their presentation in August last year and asked why they had brought only problems and no solutions to the Committee.

Ms S Maine (ANC) said that leaking pipes were a national problem and asked why local authorities were not doing anything. She asked if the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) had been contacted and if there was any indication from them to explore the possibilities the department had suggested. Ms Maine asked the representatives how soon they planned to set up a staff contingent to deal with this issue.

Mr H Cupido (ACDP) asked why the presentation had concentrated on three provinces only. He wanted more information on the topic concerning the other provinces and the Northern and Western Cape especially. He asked if the department had any indication of whether they had succeeded in training people to save water.

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) was concerned about the reservoir leakages and whether this would cause them to burst. He suggested a massive publicity campaign to educate on water conservation. Referring to the lack of dedicated resources and institutional commitments surrounding this problem, he asked for elaboration.

Ms J Semple (DA) said that due to the lack of water resources in South Africa, WC should be given priority. She asked what incentives there were to manage the growth in demand and why the growth in demand for Johannesburg flattened out even though there were high levels of urbanisation and population growth in this area – was this owing to savings? She further questioned whether the R15 billion that could be saved on the Lesotho scheme was the water cost or cost of the scheme. She asked that if the municipalities’ budgets were not being spent on O&M then what were they being spent on – capital investment, maintenance or the likes which surely would fall into another category in their budgets? She further questioned the savings of the Emfuleni Municipality and what it did to save this amount as well as asking for elaboration on the statement of “R4 million for municipalities”.

Mr J Arendse (ANC) also said that the presentation was basically the same as last year except for the proposal of the fund. He asked what the role of the fund would be: would it cover infrastructure roll-out or illegal connections, etc? He also asked how the department dealt with the non-payment of billed consumers. Regarding the establishment of the fund, he questioned how this would impact on the idea of free basic water and how the fund would deal with maintenance issues.

Mr Chunda admitted that the main challenges were not new; the issues had been spoken about but there were no financial resources to address them. He said that the Directorate of Efficiency was the smallest of the directorates with only about 8 people and a budget of about R6 million for projects for the whole country while one projects cost upwards of R1.5 million. He said that as such they were at the mercy of the regional office staff that would not help them properly as their performance was not assessed on this. He said that they had to rely on municipalities to deal with issues such as leaks and that those budgets had been downsized dramatically. He mentioned that contractors had to take risks of not being paid to carry on projects. He said that he was not aware of how the municipalities allocated their budgets and again mentioned how much could be saved if the WC systems were put in place but that they expected the municipalities to deal with leaks etc. When he had spoken to a certain municipality they discussed WC thoroughly and budgeted R20 million for this issue but when the approved budget came back only R1.5 million had been allocated and no budget made available for WDM. He said that even out of the money that was saved in certain municipalities the savings went into a pooled financial system and no money was set aside specifically for further WDM. He added that even if studies are conducted and budgets drawn up the financing was not available and therefore thee programs could not be implemented. He noted that there was no regional staff dedicated to demand management which would be needed to monitor the implementation of WC and WDM. He agreed that at the moment the priority was not on WDM and that targets for this should be set so as to enforce compliance and ensure accountability of the municipalities.

Mr P Ditchetelo (UCDP) asked how they quantified water losses. He also asked how information about the experience gained by those provinces who had achieved good levels of water efficiency could be shared with the others.

Mr M Sibuyana (IFP) said that he was very concerned by the negligence involved in water losses; there was no culture of water wastage being shameful and that responsibility and accountability were not enforced. He said that the department would have to first determine what needed to be funded before they asked for financing and that South Africa was not as badly off as countries such as Israel regarding water resources but that this country suffered because of negligence. He asked what the plan and budget was for water conservation in the department.

Mr Chunda said that the department was aware of all the interventions needed to secure water savings. He explained the techniques of measuring leakage and said that to implement these interventions targets for conservation levels had to be set. He said that the fund would be self-sustaining through revolving funds and allocated to municipalities based on a business plan.

Ms M Manana (ANC) agreed with the Chair that the department had showed that the causes of water losses were the same as they had mentioned last year but that nothing had changed. She said that leadership at the provincial and local level was lacking. She had heard complaints from technical managers regarding parliament’s involvement in this matter but parliament existed to exercise oversight. She added that municipal managers did not do their jobs properly and blaming parliament was unacceptable.

Ms E Lishivha (ANC) asked the department to comment on how they proposed to deal with this issue “door-to-door” in the rural communities where vandalism and illegal connections were rife.

Mr Chunda explained that community liaison officers have also been trained and deployed to inspect wastage and to educate members of communities as well as to do simple maintenance such as replacing washers (this method also creates employment in the region). Door-to-door methods in the rural communities were quite effective as about 5000 households were visited in only 3 months and local people were trained and deployed as liaison officers.

The Chair added that the Committee required more than what had been presented to them: they expected more than again going over last year’s issues. They required an in-depth explanation of how this section of the department dealing with conservation issues fitted into the broader community of DWAF etc. She asked the representatives in future to deal only with “real” problems and indicate their support structures and measures they were taking internally. She asked them to relate specifically to problem areas such as regions and institutions as well as the successes, challenges and issues in agriculture such as farmers irrigating at midday). She added that interdepartmental communication on issues had to strengthen and gave the example of the department insisting that RDP housing used specific methods and pluming to realise its goals as well as to speak to industry to make sure that these parts were available. She said that conservation was not yet a “way of life” in South Africa as it was in Australia for example. She suggested that a “Best” and “Worst” water saver should be published so as to name and shame conservation offenders. The Chair further questioned whether there was an inspectorate to oversee WC and added that the department’s proposed trip to Brazil with the Committee to look at efficient water systems had come to nothing and that it should be reorganised.

Mr Chunda said that he would get back to the Committee about the trip to Brazil that did not materialise. He said that there was a study being conducted with the Department of Agriculture to analyse performance as well as with the environmental managers of the mining sector. Referring to the suggestion of naming and shaming the “Best” and “Worst” performers in WC, the information systems would help in this matter because there were currently challenges to access and assess data but a database is being established to address this as well as to set up a website so that success stories can be shared to help struggling regions (such as techniques to decrease the volume of water supplied at night so that leaks can be minimised until they are repaired).

Mr Arendse reaffirmed Ms Semple’s question of why other provinces had not been included in the presentation and asked for migratory patterns of people in areas such as Gauteng to be included next time so that the Committee could see the fluctuation in water demand.

The Chair saidthat the Working for Water program had been left out of the presentation as well as anything to do with forestry and mentioned that events such as the Jacaranda Festival were concerning. She noted that with regards to legislative issues the delegates should refer to the Intergovernmental Relations Act which is a tool that relates to all aspects of departmental operation and said that DWAF, as a sector leader, should assist with conservation by leading from the front and participating in other department’s decision making. She rejected the claim that the department found it was constrained from acting.

Mr Chunda said that they had indeed been actively involved in programs with other sectors such as FEDHASA in the hospitality sector. He described the relations between the two but insisted that the budget currently does not provide for conservation. He said that full time staff was needed to inspect progress at a local level but that this staff contingent was unavailable. With regards to the agriculture sector he answered that the WDM studies had looked at that sector and that there were savings possibilities available. He said that farmers required support to realise these savings.

The Chair added that there were things that the department should take into consideration: that the report needed considerable improvement, especially with regards to how water conservation had taken shape. Data on all provinces should be provided and the fact that this was an integrated problem should be expressed. She said that the department should issue materials on studies and the likes to members so that their work in their constituencies could compliment the program i.e. that there should be a communication strategy. In order to overcome the challenges indicated the directorate should start by implementing WC in government (such as the roll-out of infrastructure with water saving technologies) and she insisted that they be more creative with their solutions. She said that other departments should set aside money for conservation. The Chair drew the delegation’s attention to matters of unemployment (which could be alleviated by training the unemployed to fix leaks) and that WC technology was too expensive. The directorate should speak to industry to make this affordable to those that want to help.

Ms Semple added that Rand Water in her constituency had sponsored plumbing courses and tool kits for the unemployed and that water boards had large amounts of funding allocated to them to sponsor programs such as this.

Mr Sibuyana said that the lack of dedicated resources was no excuse for not doing one’s job or providing the necessary services and that people who were not capable of delivery should not be employed.

Mr Arendse noted that Water Services councils should be used before consultants to manage programs or run studies.

Ms Lishivha said that the Committee had the right to intervene if there were not enough resources allocated to the directorate and that they might speak to the Director-General of DWAF to raise concerns that nothing was being done to make WC a success.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) said that the department needed to identify problem areas and report these to the Committee as they wanted to support the department on this issue. He asked if there was any indication of consumer behaviour changing in households or municipalities and that people must be made aware of water wastage (perhaps through naming and shaming).

The Chair concluded that there must be a strategic plan in this regard, that all issues must be included, that the Act must be implemented and that the department was accountable for these.

The meeting was adjourned.



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