WaterCAN, civil society and key water authorities work towards setting up a water forum in Johannesburg

WaterCAN, civil society and key water authorities work towards setting up a water forum in Johannesburg

The forum was proposed by civil society after a constructive meeting with water authorities over the weekend. But the City of Joburg, a crucial political player, was absent.

Image: WaterCAN

The national Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Rand Water (RW) and Johannesburg Water (JW) got together with WaterCAN and civil society organisations at the weekend to discuss the water crisis in Johannesburg. But the City of Johannesburg (CoJ), which controls the funds available for its entity JW, had not responded to initial attempts to bring it on board so did not send a representative.

Dr Ferrial Adam, Manager of WaterCAN, an initiative of OUTA, chaired the meeting. The authorities present were high-level representatives, who were able to provide clear information and respond to questions: DWS was represented by Director-General Dr Sean Phillips, RW by Chief Operating Officer Mahlomola Mehlo, and JW by Acting GM for Operations Logan Munsamy.

Civil society organisations present included OUTA, Johannesburg Community Action Network (JoburgCAN), the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Action for Accountability, the Johannesburg Crisis Committee, the Water Crisis Committee, the South African Water Caucus, Emmarentia Residents’ Association, Craigpark Residents’ Association and the Helen Suzman Foundation. There were also water and engineering experts present. It was emphasised that this meeting is the first step and further meetings need to inclusive of representatives across Johannesburg.

It’s clear that there are no quick fixes to the water crisis, but the meeting raised hope of a more coordinated response, better channels of communication and a start to rebuilding trust in the authorities. The absence of CoJ was regarded as problematic.


The situation: Crisis and confusion

Johannesburg residents have for months endured water cuts, shortages and now water shifting (see here).

Participants at the weekend meeting, many from residents’ associations or civil society groups across Joburg, listed ongoing problems with water  – with some areas enduring shortages or no water over weeks and even months – and lack of information or conflicting information from authorities.

Prof Craig Sheridan, a chemical engineer and water expert at Wits University, summed up the situation.

“Johannesburg City is currently facing the perfect storm. There are multiple challenges all on top of each other. These include climate change and water scarcity, population growth and poor city planning, challenges with law enforcement (from municipal bylaws through to national legislation), ageing systems and infrastructure,  loadshedding, declining revenue (including from currency depreciation), political instability and departmental silos within the city management, civil society distress (and unrest) and distrust from the ratepayers (there are also others),” said Sheridan.

“Dealing with these challenges is an unenviable task. It requires a well-integrated response. The first challenge is to put out fires, i.e. to deal with the backlog of service delivery failure. The second challenge is to address current needs at the same time, and this has to be considered whilst planning and managing future needs within budgetary constraints.

“A way to start to do these is to share information and data with all. We need the raw, unfiltered and non-interpreted data. This will expose challenge areas but it will also start to reintroduce the pact of trust between the city council and civil society.  We also invite the DWS, RW and the CoJ to lean into us, civil society and academia, for resources and assistance. We have the skills and the knowledge to assist, and we wish to do so.”


The way forward: a joint forum

WaterCAN’s Adam proposed setting up a civil society water forum, which is now underway. The forum will include senior representatives from DWS, RW, JW and, hopefully, the CoJ. “We want people who can give answers to questions and who can action items,” says Adam.

That forum would ensure that crucial information is available to residents and that responses to the water crisis are coordinated.

“We want timelines, plans, budgets,” says Adam.

“Let’s find constructive ways to get to solutions. Let’s keep trying.”

It was clear at the meeting that there is no quick fix, but also that improved communication and coordination would help residents.


How the system works & current status

Phillips, Mehlo and Munsamy provided an overview of how the system works.

The Department of Water and Sanitation: DWS sells raw (untreated) water to RW, which is a water board. DWS manages the Integrated Vaal River System and tops this up with water from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). RW extracts the water from the Vaal, treats it and sells it to municipalities including the CoJ’s entity JW.

DWS’s Phillips says RW is already exceeding its licenced limit for abstracting water from the Vaal. LHWP Phase 2 (LHWP2) is nine years behind schedule, now expected to be completed in 2028, and is expected to increase the supply in the Vaal.  Until then, DWS will not authorise the abstraction of more water from the Vaal system. (See OUTA’s 2019 graphic of how LHWP feeds into the Vaal here.)

“In this context, the demand-supply relationship for treated water in Gauteng is very tight and the system is vulnerable to disruptions caused by heavy load shedding, electro-mechanical breakdowns or theft of cables. Usually, such breakdowns would not have a noticeable effect on water supply due to the ability to draw on reserve supply capacity, but now there is no reserve supply capacity for treated water,” said Phillips. “Because the water is usually gravity-fed from municipal reservoirs to households, high-lying areas are worst affected by disruptions in supply.” If the water level in the reservoir is too low, there is not enough pressure to feed water to high-lying areas.

“Even after LHWP Phase 2 comes on stream, Gauteng’s long-term water consumption will need to be carefully managed, because there are limits to which further phases of LHWP or other water transfer projects can continue to provide additional water to Gauteng at an affordable cost,” says Phillips.

Rand Water: RW’s Mehlo described the RW systems. RW abstracts 5 202 megalitres (Ml) a day from the Vaal and treats that at the Vereeniging purification plant (1 200 Ml/day) and Zuikerbosch purification plant (3 800 Ml/day) (the primary systems); Zuikerbosch is powered by Eskom and Vereeniging by Emfuleni municipality. The remaining 202 Ml/day goes to authorised users. RW supplies secondary systems in four provinces, including supplying the three Gauteng metros (Joburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni).

  • Eikenhof supply system (1 200 Ml/day) is fed by both Zuikerbosch and Vereeniging, is powered by City Power, and feeds Meredale, Weltevreden, Waterval and Krugersdorp reservoirs. This feeds the CoJ, four more municipalities and the mines.
  • Zwartkopjes (700 Ml/day) is also fed by both Zuikerbosch and Vereeniging, is powered by Eskom, and supplies Benoni, Yeoville, Ennerdale, Meredale and Forest Hill reservoirs. This supplies CoJ and Ekurhuleni.
  • Palmiet (1 800 Ml/day) is fed by Zuikerbosch, is powered by Eskom and supplies Klipriviersberg, Germiston, Meyershill, Airfield, Klipfontein, Brakfontein and Haartebeeshoek reservoirs. This supplies CoJ and three other municipalities.
  • Mapleton (800 Ml/day) is fed by Zuikerbosch, is powered by Ekurhuleni metro and supplies Brakpan, Vlakfontein, Bronberg, Selcourt, Wildebeesfontein and Stompies reservoirs.
  • The Vereeniging-Vanderbijlpark-Sasolburg system (300Ml/day) is fed by Vereeniging, is powered by Emfuleni municipality and supplies Sasolburg and Langerand reservoirs. This supplies three municipalities.

RW has 59 reservoirs, with 53 of them (a total of 5 459 Ml of storage) currently in commission.

RW aims to keep the reservoirs between 60% and 80% full, but the system since late August has been running at under 40% capacity. By early November it had recovered to 50%.


Johannesburg Water: JW has a huge and complex distribution network. Consumption needs to be below 1 500 Ml/day but since September consumption has been higher than this. Consumption is dropping but is still 6.7% above the maximum.

Residents have reported water problems particularly in the Kommando system area (Brixton, Hursthill and Crosby) and south Joburg.

“Rand Water does not have a problem. The challenge is the draw on our systems, which is very high and is pulling the system down. We have to work together to bring this down,” said JW’s Munsamy.

He said JW has an infrastructure backlog of “a few billion rand” and the issue was lack of resources. The JW capital expenditure budget for 2023/24 is just over R1 billion but Munsamy said they need about R2 billion.

He provided the current status of towers and reservoirs.

  • The eight Midrand towers and reservoirs are between 60% and 90% full, an average of 80% (up from 75% a week earlier).
  • The eight Sandton structures are 50% to 90% full, an average of 80% (up from 54% a week earlier, when the Illovo tower and reservoir were at 40%).
  • The five Ennerdale and Lenasia structures are at only 65% (Orange Farm reservoir 30%, Ennerdale reservoir 25%, Lawley reservoir 30%, Lenasia Hospital Hill 40% and Lenasia High Level 70%), but this is better than the previous week’s 5% to 10% for these structures.
  • The seven Randburg and Roodepoort structures are at an average of 88% (Linden 1 tower is lowest at 30%, Florida North, Horizon and Waterval/Quellerina towers are all at 50%), but this is better than the previous week’s 56% average.
  • The 15 Southdale and Langlaagte structures are at an average of 71%, up from 36% a week earlier. The worst situation is the Kommando system: the Crosby reservoir at 16%, up from 5% the previous week. Hursthill reservoir 1 is at 30% (previously 15%), Hursthill reservoir 2 at 35% (previously 15%) and Brixton reservoir is at 65% (previously 40%). South Hills Tower is at 80% (previously 50%). Alexander Park (Malvern East) is at 70% (previously 15%) and Berea Reservoir (Stafford) is at 90% (previously 25%); both have overnight throttling to build up capacity.
  • The nine Soweto structures are at an average of 72%, up from 61% the previous week. Jabulani reservoir is empty for cleaning. Meadowlands reservoir is at 65% (previously 60%) and the rest are at 80% to 90%.


What is being done

Water tankers: It is the municipality’s responsibility to provide these. WaterCAN has submitted a request in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) for the number of water tanks being used, the different companies that have been contracted and the cost to the municipality.

Building infrastructure (DWS & RW): DWS is working with the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority to finish LHWP2 as soon as possible. DWS is borrowing R40 billion to finish building LHWP2, which includes construction of the Polihali Dam. RW, which is self-sustaining and not funded by government, is borrowing R35 billion for infrastructure aimed at providing additional treatment and storage capacity when LHWP2 comes online.

Building infrastructure (JW): Reservoirs are being repaired. Construction plans for the problematic Kommando system includes construction on the Brixton tower, upgrading the Crosby pumping station and upgrading the bulk main supply line to Hursthill and Crosby (this project is in the detailed design phase, with construction due to start in 2023/24 and expected to take 15 months). In South Hills the pumping station is being upgraded. JW is also considering shifting half of the existing Lynmeyer zone to Oakdene, which would need new pipes; this would start in January 2024 and finish in February 2025.

Improving systems (JW): Interventions include reducing losses and reducing high demand (through active leak detection, pressure management and promoting smart/prepaid metering), providing generators at key sites, and enforcing bylaws (enhanced cut offs and credit control, security at key sites).

Short-term actions (JW): JW has rezoned some of the South Hills supply to take additional water from RW’s G21 pipeline, which has improved the tower levels (up to 80% from the previous week’s 50%). The eastern supply is stable but the western side is inconsistent.

Loadshedding (RW and JW): RW has huge generators, but these are not sustainable when loadshedding runs into four or more hours, so RW is looking into hydropower and solar power systems. JW has generators at key pump stations and is working with City Power to install solar panels at pumping stations.

Reclaiming sewage water (RW): Long-term, RW is looking into reclaiming water process by the wastewater treatment works, and also at the reclaiming of acid-mine drainage (AMD) water. On AMD, the technology to do this exists but the cost of pumping the water out of the mines is prohibitive.


The leaks

Rand Water lost 4.7% of the total volume of its water in 2021/22 due to “leaks, illegal water connections and theft”, according to a reply by the Minister of Water and Sanitation to Parliament in July (see here).

JW says its current water losses are 24% for physical losses and 22% for non-revenue water. A reply by the Minister to Parliament in June 2023 puts Johannesburg Water’s “water losses” for 2021/22 at 29.9% (see here and here). JW’s annual report for 2021/22 (the most recent available) records non-revenue water (NRW) statistics: “The NRW for the 2021/22 financial year was 44.8% (commercial losses at 8.9%, unbilled authorised consumption at 13.0%, and physical losses at 22.9%) against a target of 32%. This is a 5.4% increase compared to the 39.4% of the previous year, which is of significant concern for the Entity.” This puts JW’s leaks and theft losses at 31.8% for 2021/22.

“Unbilled authorised” consumption is water supplied to informal settlements, water supplied to deemed consumption areas over and above the flat rate of recovery applied, and water used in network system maintenance, according to the JW annual report.

Non-revenue water does not include free basic water. National Treasury says free basic water is considered billed metered or unmetered consumption, billed at zero rate, and forms part of the billed consumption and revenue water (see here). The cost of providing free basic services is meant to be funded by the equitable share grant (an unconditional grant) which national government provides to local government.


What WaterCAN & civil society want from the authorities

  • Joint forum: WaterCAN will work with government and civil society to ensure a more inclusive forum. The joint forum must be set up urgently (see above).
  • City of Johannesburg: We want the CoJ to join the forum and improve communications with residents.
  • Transparency on data: We want detailed and real-time data from the authorities – particularly RW and JW – to be made available online. (See Prof Sheridan’s comments above.) JW indicated support for sharing of information. We want JW water test results to be shared with civil society without the need to submit a PAIA request.
  • Transparency on water shifting: There must be a clear schedule for water shifting.
  • Transparency on infrastructure: For all the new developments and upgrading of infrastructure, clear plans and timelines must be made available to civil society.
  • JW site visit: JW has committed to site visits with representatives from civil society.
  • More funds for JW capital expenditure: Civil society will lobby the CoJ for more funds for JW capital expenditure. The CoJ council is the political entity which controls the budget for JW, its wholly owned entity. We want to know why JW has, on paper, an accumulated surplus of R12.155 billion (according to the JW annual report 2021/22), but cannot access this as it goes to the CoJ as the shareholder. We think it is unreasonable for JW to have insufficient funds for water infrastructure after residents have paid enough over the years to produce that surplus. JW says it needs another R1 billion for capital expenditure this year: we want to know why CoJ hasn’t allocated this to JW. Providing water is the most essential service a municipality must provide.
  • Solution needed: We want the authorities to resolve the problem with water meters falsely recording water-use readings when air is running through the pipes during or after a water cut. This problem appears to apply to conventional meters. The huge inaccurate bills people received because of this problem must be addressed as a priority.
  • Leaks: We would like to see JW making a greater effort to address leaks.
  • Legislation: The draft Water Services Amendment Bill has been approved by Cabinet and is due out for public comment soon. Civil society is invited to comment on this bill. Parliament was told that this bill aims to bring about water services reforms required to address the financial and service delivery sustainability challenges of the water services sector. We hope this will address the need to ringfence water revenue for water services. We’ll be watching this bill as civil society.
  • Anti-corruption: Any corrupt activities in the water section which civil society groups and supporters come across should be reported to the National Anti-Corruption hotline 0800 701 701.


Save water

Given the water challenges of quantity, quality, climate change and access, it was highlighted that there is a need from improved education and awareness of the water challenges facing the province and the country. WaterCAN urges everyone to use water as sparingly as possible. We have to change our relationship with water. This must become a normal discussion and not only in times of challenges.

Although it is up to the authorities to ensure that there is adequate water for everyone, WaterCAN urges everyone to use water sparingly as it is a precious resource. Johannesburg is a water scarce city, in a water scarce country, and it is up to all of us to ensure the sustainable use of water.


More Info: 
A voicenote by Dr Ferrial Adam can be found here.

Presentation by DWS.
Presentation by Rand Water.
Presentation by JHB Water.

About WaterCAN:
WaterCAN is a dedicated environmental organisation committed to preserving and protecting South Africa’s water resources. With a mission to promote responsible water management and raise awareness about water quality, the organisation empowers communities to become proactive stewards of their local water sources. If you would like to support our work, kindly Donate Here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *