Despite South Africa being a water-scarce country, millions of kilolitres of water are lost every month due to failing municipal infrastructure.
A reply to a Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary question has revealed that an average of 22.2 million kilolitres of water is lost every month through transmission leakage in KwaZulu-Natal alone. That is an average loss of 40% of the monthly water supply between July 2011 and April 2012 (equivalent to 70% of the whole of Midmar Dam over one year). The Minister of Water needs to intensify the war on water leaks.
The worst performing municipality is Newcastle, where 76% of the water supply is being lost due to poor hydraulic infrastructure maintenance. There are only 5 municipalities out of a total of 14 water service authorities (WSAs) that are losing less than 50% of their supply to leakage. This is bad news in a province where the demand for water is exceeding available supply by a total of 2.8 million kilolitres a month.
Whilst the quality of drinking water in KwaZulu-Natal is generally good, with a Blue Drop Report score of 92.1% (3rd place nationally), the above figures reveal that good water is being lost, despite hundreds of thousands of citizens of this province still not having access to a basic water service.
While municipalities are responsible for the reticulation of water at a municipal level, it is clear that too many municipalities simply cannot address the maintenance backlog of water infrastructure. The problem is compounded when one considers that many municipalities in South Africa are also compromising the performance of water boards through non-payment of debts. As at the end of 2011, R1.2bn of debt in arrears was owed to water boards.
The Department of Water needs to place the worst performing municipalities on terms. Aggressive targets for reducing water losses need to be established. In cases where municipalities simply cannot produce a positive turn-around they need to be encouraged to contract out the services of water boards, where available, and they should consider public-private partnerships for the operation and maintenance of currently failing infrastructure.
It is important that the Department gets to grips with available options for each municipality with unacceptable monthly water losses. Without pressure and assistance from national government, the situation is likely to worsen in many municipalities.
I will be submitting detailed parliamentary questions to the Minister of Water to determine how she intends to reduce water losses in each municipality.
Access to clean drinking water is a constitutionally enshrined progressive right, and government simply has to do more to realise it. Fixing leaks in municipal infrastructure is one of the first interventions required to secure our water resources. Reducing leaks alone could reduce the need for new bulk infrastructure projects, like dams, in certain parts of the country.