Public, private sector must collaborate in face of Joburg water crisis

5 November 2019
With the ongoing heat wave pushing water consumption to a record high, the City of Johannesburg has implemented Stage 2 water restrictions. The situation is exacerbated by falling dam levels due to low rainfall, and a planned shutdown of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) tunnel system for inspection and maintenance.
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Infrastructure delivery company AECOM has extensive expertise in water resource management; conveyance, reservoirs and distribution; dams and hydropower; water and wastewater treatment; and water resilience and security. Its experience includes planning, designing, and managing clients’ water resources. Here it provides modelling, mapping, engineering, and scientific investigation.

AECOM is highly knowledgeable in watershed planning and management, water-rights studies, analysis of alternative supply sources, and the development of water supplies, raw water conveyance, conjunctive use, and related issues. Its specialists analyse the impact of potential strategies, ranging from ecological to regulatory and socio-economic, as well as from the standpoint of engineering feasibility. By applying adaptive management principles in the planning and design process, AECOM integrates science and management, delivering the most targeted solution possible.

For example, it was approached by various private companies to provide professional services to improve their resilience in response to water-supply interruptions during the so-called ‘Day Zero’ crisis in October 2017, when the City of Cape Town predicted it would effectively run out of water by March 2018.

“We need to educate the people. Cape Town had a water crisis, from which its experience and successes must be shared, and the public made aware of,” Hanine van Deventer (Pr Eng), Senior Engineer, Water, Africa at AECOM comments. “It is a case where public and private entities need to collaborate in order to better manage water, a precious commodity, and serve the ever-growing population so as to promote economic growth.”

Private property owners can become more resilient against water-stress conditions by reviewing their commercial and insurance obligations in terms of maintaining water supply; reducing their overall water dependency and consumption; familiarising themselves with the national and provincial legislation, regulations, and restrictions in terms of water use, and the development of alternative water sources and systems; engaging with their local Water Service Authority (WSA) on the local application and management of the national mandates according to local bylaws, restrictions, and standards; and even considering local private-public partnerships in developing alternative water sources.

“Early stakeholder engagement can clarify many uncertainties, and expedite procedures to establish a realistic and viable resilience plan,” van Deventer argues. It is imperative for WSAs to review the security, contribution, and sensitivity of their water resources respective to drought conditions. Importantly, this includes pollution-control measures in terms of acid mine drainage, wastewater, and poorly-treated effluent.

WSAs also need to have a realistic water resiliency plan that needs to be communicated properly to the public to facilitate its implementation. The capability and readiness of bulk water infrastructure to operate intermittently at reduced flows and/or pressures must be assessed, in hand with contingency plans and interventions to reduce or control non-revenue water.

Ease-of-access to all legislative regulations that govern and facilitate water use for end users is vital.  Here WSAs need to provide appropriate guidelines to ensure that technical and public leaders have a good understanding to enable them to direct and facilitate any queries. Bylaws must be sufficiently flexible for the needs of the private sector, including well-defined emergency conditions that may have to be accommodated.

The responsibilities, delegation of authority, and decision-making forums in the national, provincial, and managerial governance environment under which all WSAs operate must be clearly defined and understood, so as to avoid any conflicts in attending to water management issues during water-stress periods. These forums should be vertically and horizontally aligned to adjacent and related governance and management structures – such as environmental, procurement, agriculture, and sanitation, among others.

WSAs have to reach out and educate the various end users in different spheres such as industrial, commercial and retail, government entities, and schools. They must facilitate stakeholder forums and partner with end users in developing their water resiliency measures. Here different media can be used to keep the public and end users up-to-date, such as social media platforms and radio campaigns.

A cash flow and commercial strategy for water restrictions must also be implemented, as the revenue stream for WSAs literally dries up when the water supply reduces. However, the overheads and maintenance costs could increase potentially. Here options for public-private partnership opportunities within stakeholder forums can be considered. Bulk water users can be given incentives to increase their resiliency and reduce their dependency on WSAs during water-stress times.

“It is a fact that South Africa is a water-scarce country. We need to evolve accordingly, and manage water wisely. Everyone must work together to improve our state of water resilience,” van Deventer concludes. A registered professional civil engineer with 15 years’ experience in the civil engineering industry, she manages water projects for AECOM.


Notes to the editor

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