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Water preservation high on agenda

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A multi-stakeholder engagement to address and find innovative solutions to the water and sanitation challenges being experienced in the Northern Cape was high on the agenda during the Water Research Commission roadshow and workshop in Kimberley this week.

Delegates at the Water Research Commission workshop held at Sol Plaatje University. Picture: Soraya Crowie

A MULTI-stakeholder engagement to address and find innovative solutions to the water and sanitation challenges being experienced in the Northern Cape was high on the agenda during the Water Research Commission (WRC) roadshow and workshop in Kimberley this week.

The two-day workshop took place at Sol Plaatje University and was attended by various stakeholders, including provincial officials from the Department of Water and Sanitation, officials from Sol Plaatje University and the SA Local Government Association (Salga) and stakeholders in the mining industry.

The CEO of the WRC, Dr Jennifer Molwantwa, said the roadshow is a follow-up to previous engagements that took place in 2023.

“The Northern Cape has been prioritised by the WRC since it is one of the driest provinces in South Africa, with an average annual rainfall of about 200mm. The scarcity of water resources is a defining feature of this arid environment and behavioural change in water consumption will contribute immensely towards improving the water situation in the Province,” said Molwantwa.

“During the WRC’s initial engagements with NC Province, it emerged that the WRC needs to strengthen the relations with multiple stakeholders in the Province to assist with research-related interventions based on the water and sanitation challenges presented. Of great importance is the sharing of available knowledge products and innovations to respond to the needs of the Province.”

Molwantwa said the lack of skilled and qualified personnel in critical roles has also hampered municipalities’ chances of permanently addressing challenges of water and sanitation.

“Upon engaging stakeholders in the Province, there are severe capacity challenges, and, in some cases, there is a lack of relevant personnel in key positions such as process controllers, water quality monitoring practitioners and sanitation management specialists.

“In this regard, the WRC has conducted research and produced guidelines that could assist in areas such as Water Safety Plans and Wastewater Risk Abatement Plans for Water Service Authorities (WSAs) that could be taken up by such personnel as an effective empowerment tool.

“Another area of great concern that arose from prior provincial engagements is the issue of poor revenue collection, which emanates from a lack of proper water metering, accompanied by poor analysis of socio-economic conditions of customers and in some cases poor asset register management. This does not exclude tariff-setting challenges.

“Over and above these conditions, groundwater management, if mastered correctly, could become a key alternative resource for providing water in stressed environments. Groundwater depletion during droughts poses a huge challenge to most areas of the Province,” said Molwantwa

The Northern Cape MEC for Co-operative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs, Bentley Vass, said the local government has made great strides in providing clean drinking water and sanitation to communities in the Province.

He said the local government, in partnership with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), continuously strives to provide residents with clean water and sanitation.

“It is therefore worth noting, that according to the Census 2022 report, 73% of households in our Province have access to flush toilets, which is 2% higher than the national average. This is an improvement from the 66% reported in the 2011 Census,” said Vass.

“Also in the 2022 Census report, we see that 82% of households have onsite access to piped water, either inside their dwelling or in their yard. This means that 55% of households have access to water within their dwelling, while 27% of households have access to piped water in their yards. We have managed to achieve this in a Province that is very water-scarce.

“Most areas in the Province rely on groundwater, which unfortunately is over-exploited in some places. This is coupled with an inherently low level of rainfall. Its variability and inconsistency have become more frequent in the last three decades and it has, in most instances, led to recurring bouts of droughts in certain parts of the Province.”

Vass said there are plans in the pipeline to ensure people in the province do not struggle to access water.

“The Province is largely dependent on water releases from the Bloemhof Dam and the Vanderkloof Dam further upstream for its two main surface water resources, the Vaal and Orange rivers. The Orange River’s water is primarily available for domestic and industrial use. However, a few thousand hectares of water use entitlements have been reserved for historically disadvantaged individuals (HDIs) in the agricultural sector.

“South Africa has signed the Ramsar Convention, which mandates the country to maintain the ecological integrity of the Orange River mouth by implementing environmental flow requirements. To fulfil this obligation, DWS is in discussions with Namibia to enhance the yield of the Orange River. Joint planning studies conducted with Namibia have identified the construction of a dam in the lower Orange River near Vioolsdrift as a viable alternative to increase the available water yield. This site is situated on the common border between South Africa and Namibia and is envisioned as a joint development that would cater to the projected needs of both countries.”

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