Precious resource must be used efficiently and effectively.

The Water Services Act requires municipalities to identify measures to promote water conservation and manage water demand. These measures should be included in the water conservation and water demand management strategy and water services development plan. In essence, the management strategy outlines measures to reduce water losses and the requisite resources over a period of time. Ultimately, this ensures water is used efficiently and effectively.

The developmental role of local government is considerably undermined by poor management of water across many municipalities in the country. Various service delivery protests across SA have been and continue to be attributed to lack of, or poor supply of, water to many communities.

The inability to access basic services such as water impacts upon the quality of life as well as economic development for many communities across the country. Moreover, SA comprises many areas that remain characterised by service delivery backlogs. This has brought into focus the need to look at what the real issues are in relation to the provision of water services. 

Water losses are indeed a big problem, with the losses estimated at 5% to as much as 60% in certain areas. There are two primary areas where losses continue unabated, namely insufficient monitoring of bulk water supply as well as lack of monitoring in the distribution systems. The key problems range from households with toilet cisterns that leak continuously as well as leaks from taps and pipes supplying the households.

One of the major concerns is that some municipalities have consumers that are unmetered and even worse, some consumers continue to use water unbilled. This leads to excessive leakages and wastage to the detriment of service delivery and financial sustainability of municipalities.

Water-related tariffs have also been found to be a huge contributing factor in relation to losses. These are very low in some instances and do not necessarily reflect the actual cost to treat and supply the water to consumers.

There are also a large number of visible leaks in many areas as a result of deteriorating bulk infrastructure and lack of maintenance.

Proposed solutions include the monitoring of water schemes, which should be implemented in phases commencing with the worst-performing schemes. Monitoring should not only occur at water treatment works, but also in distribution systems.

Smart metering technologies and the implementation of private leak repair programmes for households can improve this situation, providing additional water to be used for households.

Moreover, there is a need to educate communities on how to manage water, including basics such as the identification and reporting of leaks, understanding of water consumption, the need to pay for water services and interpreting water bills. This would promote water use efficiency and the culture of paying for water services.

The prevailing situation across local government highlights several factors that contribute to substantial water losses. The downside, in the absence of efforts to address these factors, is significant maintenance backlogs, poor revenue recovery, and consequently the inability to provide sustainable and efficient water services persist.

Additionally, limited human resources, lack of financial resources, poorly maintained infrastructure and poor asset management planning will continue to exacerbate the water losses. 

The imperative that remains is the need to develop and sustain simple programmes that will continuously identify sources of water losses and proactively address these. As demonstrated, this requires a comprehensive view of the associated maintenance requirements, financial impact in relation to the losses as well as the required budget to arrest the losses.

These should be consolidated into a programme that is managed by personnel with the requisite skills to identify and develop interventions to reduce these losses. It remains the prerogative of the local government to develop these comprehensive programmes to decisively address the debilitating water losses which impact negatively on economic development. 

Mabunda is an associate partner at Ntiyiso Industrialisation Consulting