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DRY TAPS

Fully restoring water to Johannesburg ‘could take longer than a week’

Fully restoring water to Johannesburg ‘could take longer than a week’
New Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Dada Moerero(centre), with Helen Joseph Hospital CEO Dr Relebohile Ncha (left) addresses the media at Helen Joseph Hospital on Tuesday, 6 October, 2022 about water restrictions in Johannesburg. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Johannesburg Water and the city’s new mayor addressed the media on Thursday about the water crisis that has hit the city.

Water is not like electricity. [With] electricity, if there’s a power failure, when power comes back, you hit a switch and the light comes back in a few seconds, or even in a second,” said Logan Munsamy, the technical director of Johannesburg Water, during a media briefing at Hursthill Reservoir in Johannesburg on Thursday. 

“With water, you’re supplying water through a long series of pipelines. If a reservoir goes low or empty, it takes sometimes up to days, even weeks to recover that storage.” 

water johannesburg

Water trucks supplied by Joburg Water to help fill Helen Joseph Hospital’s reservoir, brought on Sunday, 2 October 2022. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Munsamy was explaining why parts of Johannesburg faced water shortages this week. He said that because reservoirs are designed to provide reserve storage, when they run low it takes time to build the storage back up before water can be released into the system. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Day Zero comes to parts of Joburg as water cuts roll through city and taps run dry” 

“In this case, we are entirely dependent on Rand Water to supply our system with water. Because of the operational challenges on their side, it has a ripple effect, in that our systems went empty and are currently extremely low, which is affecting water supply to consumers,” said Munsamy. 

Johannesburg’s new executive mayor, Dada Morero, called on residents of the city “to bear with us”.

water joburg moreno

New Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg Dada Moerero with corporate communication executive for Joburg Water, Nondumiso Mabuza (right), at Helen Joseph Hospital, Tuesday, 6 October 2022. (Photo: Julia Evans)

“Colleagues [at Johannesburg Water] are trying as much as they can to restore water supply to the areas that are affected,” said Morero.

 “We’re appealing to the residents to really work with us, work with the city, work with Joburg Water here. And water supply will be restored and there will be a continuous flow of supply quite soon. 

“I’m glad that the … agency [Johannesburg Water] is doing its level best to ensure that we do have water, they’ve not been sleeping. 

“So I think we’re doing well, let’s just allow them space, [and] time,” said Morero, adding that Johannesburg water had provided water tankers to ensure communities were not left without water. 

Why did the taps run dry? 

Munsamy explained that the water system in the western and southern parts of Johannesburg worked in tandem with three reservoir systems — Hursthill, Crosby and Brixton — and was supplied by one common source, the connection meter at Commando Road, run by Rand Water.

The managing director of Johannesburg Water, Ntshavheni Mukwevho, explained that from 23 to 30 September there had been four power failures at their bulk water supplier plant — Rand Water’s Zuikerbosch Water Treatment Plant — which affected the plant’s ability to pump at full capacity, with a knock-on effect on the reservoirs in the system.

“When they had power trips because of Eskom power failures, it obviously affects their ability to distribute water to our Commando Road system,” said Munsamy. “Meaning that they weren’t able to deliver the required volume of water we need to come through the Commando Road meter to feed these three reservoir systems. So as a result, our reservoirs went basically down to near empty or empty.” 

Mukwevho said the recent heat wave in Johannesburg had also put pressure on the system, with residents using more water. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Why is there a heat wave in parts of SA when it’s not yet summer?” 

How long until water is restored? 

Munsamy said: “It’s hot weather conditions, and people are going to use more water. That strains the ability of the reservoirs to recover in a week; it might take even longer at this rate.” 

Mukwevho said after they lost the three reservoirs on Tuesday morning, they started the process of bringing back the system, gaining most of the volume of water on Tuesday night needed to supply the Brixton zone by Wednesday morning. The water supply had been opened at around 50%, “so that we can be able to control the issue of recharging the whole system”.

Mukwevho said the water level at the Hursthill reservoir was still low when they opened Brixton, so they only started — partially — opening the system on Wednesday evening. 

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“And we are still indeed in that process of recharging, because the level … is very low.

“The important thing is that during the day we don’t necessarily lose everything that we’ve gained overnight, you know, for a number of days until we bring the system back,” said Mukwevho. 

He said that in Crown Gardens, in the south of Johannesburg, they were able to start pumping water into the reservoir system on Thursday morning, but that, like Hursthill, low-lying areas in Crown Gardens faced longer water shortages. 

Don’t wash your car — or at least use rainwater 

Johannesburg Water and Morero encouraged people to use water sparingly and use rainwater for non-essential activities like gardening, washing cars and filling swimming pools. 

“That will help us to preserve the water for drinking and cooking,” said Morero. “I still don’t understand why car washes are using water from Joburg Water.”

Joburg Water spokesperson Nondumiso Mabuza said they had deployed water tankers to affected neighbourhoods and installed JoJo tanks in some areas.

Helen Joseph Hospital

Morero and Johannesburg Water visited Helen Joseph Hospital in Auckland Park. The hospital has experienced dips in water pressure, but no cut-off of supply. 

This is in part thanks to the borehole that Gift of the Givers drilled last year for the hospital when it was facing water shortages. The borehole provides 120,000 litres of the 260,000 litres the hospital needs — which allows some parts of it to function. 

joburg water

Helen Joseph Hospital CEO Dr Relebohile Ncha. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Helen Joseph Hospital CEO Dr Relebohile Ncha said: “Water has just been limited. But we’ve never gotten to a point zero, where we don’t have water. Today it was 100%. So everything is functional today.” 

Ncha said while they had not had to shut the hospital, they had to limit their services when the water supply is low.

“For example, in theatre, we’d concentrate only on emergency cases simply because of those restrictions.

“And I think, also to get a little bit of relief, once Joburg Water’s still trying to pump, we’d ask for diversion, what we call giving the hospital relief for about four hours so that we can recoup ourselves and then the services continue, but we’ve never had to shut down the entire hospital or not provide any services. We’ve never had to reach that point.”

Finding new ways to protect a scarce resource

Morero said: “South Africa needs a very strong water revolution. In fact, as you know, water is one of the scarce commodities that we have. We may want to begin to think beyond just water supplies for Rand Water and Joburg Water … and bring different innovative strategies. As you know, it is often said that the next world war will be [over] water as a scarce resource.” DM/OBP

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Barrie Lewis says:

    Shortage of water and electricity will likely continue indefinitely. Smart people are harvesting two wonderful sources that drop from the heavens. Solar panels are expensive but building an underground reservoir, 5m in diameter and 2m deep is remarkably cheap. We’ve needed municipal water for only two months in ten years. Let those with ears to hear, let them hear.
    Those who will not hear, must feel.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Viva, ANC, Viva. Done it again wrecked a perfectly natural resource with your dysfunctional management. Bunch of ditherers, like Cyril. Hospitals cannot run out of water. Even in war zones of the Ukraine, they have water! What are you doing?

  • mike muller says:

    Finally, a clear statement of the problem. But it should have been provided days ago. Can Joburg Water’s management please be allowed to speak to the media without having to look over their shoulders in case the truth upsets their political masters!

  • Sven Coles says:

    What an absolute farce. No competence in sight. Pathetic. Nobody takes any responsibility. Typical new South Africa.

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