The abundance of excellent, cheap water has made South Africa’s economic growth possible. But in this week’s Special Assignment we reveal that we are reaching the point in history where we have to make the head-shift from an economy driven by water availability to one run on limited water.
Much like in the case of electricity, addressing the backlogs in infrastructure and maintenance will mean that we will all soon pay more for water. If we manage the situation well, there is evidence to illustrate that we may reverse forecasts of social instability and restrictions.
However, our track record in heeding warnings suggests that we almost always wait too long – like in the case of acid mine drainage in defunct gold mines – where warnings were ignored by society and government long after it should have been addressed decisively. It is now prohibitively expensive to fix. But almost without skipping a beat, we have replicated the same acid mine water problems in the catchment of our major rivers – the Olifants River in Mpumalanga between Emalahleni and the Kruger Park, which is 30% moribund after a century of coal mining in its catchment; and now also the Vaal River, opposite the Olifants, on the southern side of the side of the Highveld watershed. If the current warnings about maintenance, upgrades and treatment of mine process water are ignored, experts say we will go into a situation of water scarcity with regular restrictions in just over a decade, causing economic stagnation and a social crisis. In this programme, we show the stark lessons from towns that have already paid a high price for mining through the undrinkable water that they’re left with. We also recapture the value of water – where it comes from and how we have abused it by not prioritising the careful treatment of water over mine processes and profit.
The Chief Operation Officer of the Department of Water Affairs, Trevor Balzer says that South Africa will have to invest over R700-billion over the next ten years – that’s R70bn per year of which we only have 45% in our various allocations to municipal services and other infrastructure-related budgets. The country will have to raise around R37-billion from an already over-stretched consumer and tax-payer.
Recent research by the government’s Water Research Commission found that we lose at least 37% of our water out of the system through infrastructure deciiencies and maintenance – this is water that has been brought to the cities at huge expense to the taxpayer, from which government cannot raise an income. What is at stake as we look at our collective water future? WATERSHED is produced by Anna-Maria Lombard and was aired on Thursday the 11th of July 2013 on Special Assignment – broadcasted on SABC 3 at 21:30PM.
The FSE featured prominently in the programme