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WATER CRISIS

As Rand Water warns of wider system collapse, Soweto and Johannesburg taps still dry

As Rand Water warns of wider system collapse, Soweto and Johannesburg taps still dry
Residents of Dube and Meadowlands in Soweto fetch water amid the Rand Water crisis on 15 March 2024. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Pretoria warns residents to save water as it could be next with multi-day power cuts.

On Friday, 15 March, Johannesburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda said, “By tomorrow morning we will see water start running through the taps.”

On Sunday, 17 March, Johannesburg Water said the system remained under “severe strain”, and the bulk supplier, Rand Water, warned that its system faced imminent collapse. Many taps are still as dry as a bone.

The chart below shows that Rand Water reservoirs, which supply the three Gauteng metros – Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni – and 14 other municipalities and 27 mines, are perilously low. It also reveals that while Johannesburg and Rand Water blamed a lightning strike that knocked out a substation at the Eikenhof pumping station, the reserve decline led to freefall.

Rand Water has blamed it on the weather and high consumption, but water specialists and councillors say this doesn’t explain the crisis. Johannesburg Water also blamed the heatwave for the ongoing cuts. (An outage at Eikenhof in January 2023 also caused a water crisis, as this report shows.)

rand water collapse

On Saturday, 16 March, Rand Water CEO Sipho Mosai and his team called an emergency meeting at 9.30am with officials from the three metros to warn of a collapse. Pretoria immediately put in place water restrictions while the latest water crisis in Johannesburg, which started on 3 March, extended into its third week.

The water cuts, low pressure and throttling affect the entire system; only some areas have regular supplies. Large parts of Soweto had dry taps and residents reported that local shops ran out of bottled water or could not afford to buy more. Johannesburg Water has between 25 and 28 water tankers – insufficient for the scale of the crisis.

rand water collapse soweto

Residents of Dube and Meadowlands in Soweto fetch water on 15 March 2024. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

rand water collapse soweto

A Soweto resident fetches water on 15 March 2024. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

By Sunday, 17 March, a Johannesburg Water update said it would throttle systems (reducing water supply to a trickle) to help reservoirs build supplies. The Central system, which supplies the east of the city, was struggling, while the Berea reservoir, which supplies the inner city, had poor pressure and no water.

The overall Soweto system was “under strain”, with Meadowlands reservoir closed, affecting Meadowlands, Orlando West, Dube, Mzimhlophe, Mofolo North and Central, as well as Diepkloof. Diepsloot and Riversdale View also suffered from low pressure to no supply.

The Deep South, which includes Orange Farm, Ennerdale, Lawley and Lenasia, were dry or struggling. Eleven reservoirs in some of the poorest parts of the city would be throttled or closed overnight. These are the areas where people can’t afford to buy bottled water as is a norm now in the suburban city.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Unfolding water crisis in Johannesburg deepens as officials scramble for answers

It’s hot, but is that unusual?

rand water collapse heat wave

Rand Water says the heatwave is driving the crisis, as its water demand chart shows. Southern Africa is facing its hottest February and March. (See Ed Stoddard’s report on El Niño). The weather is a factor, but Johannesburg generally has hot summers which are predictable for water planners.

“You can’t blame heatwaves for Rand Water under-supplying. You have to ask how much they are increasing supply. My biggest concern is we will run out of water. We have dry winters, and our springs are getting hotter and hotter. At this rate, we could run out by October,” says Johannesburg DA councillor Bridget Steer, an expert on the city’s water supply.

Rand Water did not respond to three requests for comment on its warning of a system collapse.

“It’s probably been the hardest time in my life as a councillor,” says Nicole van Dyk, DA councillor in Ward 99, which took the biggest knock from the 3 March multiday water cut. It includes Linden, Blairgowrie, Cresta and surrounding areas.

“You can get the power back on; you can clean the streets, but if the water’s not pumping, there’s nothing you can do.” Her persistence in getting answers as the cuts stretched to nine days led to the revelation that a valve at Rand Water’s Waterval Dal reservoir on Northcliff Hill had been closed, shutting the supply. News24 first reported it here.

rand water collapse

The chart from a Joburg Water presentation to councillors shows that the valve had been closed, causing at least part of the polycrisis. The reservoir started filling up within an hour of council workers opening it. Linden was one of the few stable reservoirs this weekend.

Steer says each reservoir has “telemetrics” (measuring systems which log back digitally to a separate team).

“They [Rand Water] know what inflows and reservoir levels are at any point. [Why is it] only when Joburg Water arrived at the reservoir were the valves checked and found to be closed? It was opened and started flowing?”

Rand Water said it is investigating and has not provided an update. Water tankers are big money, and residents have told Daily Maverick that in some areas in the city’s south, tankers arrive just before unscheduled water cuts. Joburg Water said it would investigate this when we asked last year. There has been no update. (This is an excellent explainer by The Outlier of how the Rand Water system to Johannesburg works.)

Gwamanda promises, but doesn’t deliver

Daily Maverick sent questions about the latest water crisis to Johannesburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda’s office and will report the answers when provided. Last year, Gwamanda promised to set up a task team on water when residents in the south blocked the road into town after months of cuts and intermittent supply.

They also flash-mobbed a televised briefing by Johannesburg Water to highlight their plight. 

“The task team did not materialise. We had one meeting to discuss the terms of reference and that was it. We have not heard anything from them. Recently we have had intermittent water and low pressure. You can’t use geysers to shower, use washing machines, dishwashers because of low pressure. The irony is that there are leaks all over yet some don’t receive water,” said a community representative.

Van Dyk said she reported three major leaks alone over the weekend. Johannesburg is a fountain of burst pipes as the old network breaks. The councillor said estimates by Joburg Water had shown for years that the city needs to replace at the bare minimum 300/400km of old pipes a year to maintain the system. Still, it’s only scheduled to replace 28km this year.

“Summer is not a surprise. We’re a hot country. The fact that the Joburg water system is collapsing is not a surprise either,” she said.

Gwamanda promised another “action plan” for water and water infrastructure maintenance on Friday, 15 March. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Joe Soap says:

    Yet Sterkfontein dam which supplies the Vaal dam is 99% full.

    • Joe Bloggs says:

      Sterkfontein Dam is used to power the Eskom hydro generators. It is only used to supplement the Vaal Dam in an emergency. Vall Dam is currently 88%.

  • William Kelly says:

    What, exactly, is happening at Rand Water? All fingers are pointing there, Joburg Water and neglected pipes notwithstanding. #ratesboycott

  • Steve Du Plessis says:

    Time to stop focussing on skin colour and blame. It’s time for competent people, a focus on excellence and competence and making the best of South Africa for all of the people of South Africa

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    No complaints. We got what the majority voted for!

    • Malcolm McManus says:

      Ja, and we are now at yet another “watershed” moment where the majority can choose a government with a proven track record, but they won’t. Certainly if miraculously, we change to the only party who has clearly shown they can manage, it will still take some time to fix everything the ANC has broken over the last 30 years. But at least we will be moving in the right direction.

  • Martin Neethling says:

    For the longest of time we’ve considered Competence as some relatively unimportant characteristic of the structures that we maintain and the people who staff them. Competing priorities have maintained their position higher on the list, including EE, transformation, representivity, and more recently, access to tenders and resources. We treat something that is working in a casual way, always expendable to something more important. Joburg’s Metro Council, and those employees in the public administration tasked within running stuff, are the sum total of every bad decision and every bad policy foisted on them, over a decade at least. Terrible policies are exclusively the ANC’s contribution to this mess, but political actors, from Mashaba resigning in a huff to Lesufi’s constant meddling, to Mckenzie always demanding more, to Gwamanda and an endless string of useful idiots, Joburg is where it is 100% due to political failure. Logic and Common Sense scream out here to the electoral population, next time round, to Make Better Choices, but I fear that for many people the failure, decay, and loss of competitiveness exemplified by this accelerating water crises can always be airbrushed into something else, justifying the status quo.

    • Confused Citizen says:

      So true and sad… And again, the citizens would rather not vote than take a chance on the opposition parties.

    • Confused Citizen says:

      “the city needs to replace at the bare minimum 300/400km of old pipes a year to maintain the system. Still, it’s only scheduled to replace 28km this year.”

      Because all the money has been syphoned off to connected ANC caders that need ‘to eat’ and lack of technical skills due to AA.

      One can go without electricity, but you can’t go without water! There is no ‘solar installation’ easy fix for no water in your taps! And in 3 days we ‘celebrate’ Human Rights Day, but people don’t have water and flushing toilets! That is a basic human right!

    • T Mac says:

      Very well put!

  • Gavin Hillyard says:

    It seems as if there has been insufficient forward planning. Perhaps the incumbents are more concerned with re-election than service delivery. Woza 29 May.

    • WHISTLE BLOWER says:

      There has been no planning from the the get go….after Madiba passed away, any sense that was left of the the then anc’s sensibilities, went out the door…we as a country, are now left with suffering the longwinded white washing lies of one of the most deceitful and cunning liars, Ramasofa. Cyril has truly reached a stage, where lies flow from him naturally, he doesn’t even have to think of how to cover for the gross incompetence and corruption of his Cabinet of Hopeless Cadres, he only sits and thinks out lies..after all, he’s a millionaire. Thus when things get really out of control, he shall abandon S.A.S Titanic and head for greener hills, while we all go down with the ship…

  • Brian Cotter says:

    We have known for the last 20 years that pipe replacement needs to happen as a planned event otherwise we reach a belly up situation where everything packs up at once and all pipes spring leaks and no water gets through to the user. Add the incompetence situation where it takes days to know someone closed a valve (not a small job considering the size of valve) and obviously no signal back to SCADA. Where is the full report from Rand Water?

    • Geoff Coles says:

      Pipe replacement is the equivalent of basic maintenance. One wonders too as to the technical competences of those running Rand Water etc…. I don’t mean the politicals

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    There certainly is something going on with Rand Water, which certainly needs investigation. The explanations of hot weather and high consumption don’t adequately explain what is going on.

    Johannesburg needs to prioritize funding the water system to provide for adequate maintenance. The continual political farce on the Council has meant that the looming crisis has been ignored.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Big money in water tankers and supply. Controlled or in concert with the cadres.

  • WHISTLE BLOWER says:

    We as taxpayers, have had to suffer the gross incompetence of the ruling uselessnparty and its cadres for too long.. hie do the supporters of the anc plan to punish their masters at the coming elections?? By voting them in for another 5 years maybe!! No matter how much the opposition parties, beg, cry and plead for the anc voters and supporters to change their vote, for the sake of the entire country, change will only come, when the very same anc voters, vote them out power…. until such a time, we are all sitting ducks.. 🦆

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Er, thinking of Marie Antoinette, can’t Gauteng locals drink beer and coke?

    • Peter Holmes says:

      Nice one! Of course, she (literally) lost her head. Can’t see the same happening to the Mayor of Joburg. PS Call me a “when we” if you like but, prior to 1994, the notion of Joburg being without water would have been unthinkable, nay, laughable.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Who could possibly have guessed that criminally stupid electoral choices can have negative consequences.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    There are multiple pressures on the water supply. A recent study showed that 44% of the water that Johannesburg receives is never billed for. About 25% is lost by our rickety, leaky infrastructure (no city has a zero % loss, but 25 is high). There is stolen water – illegal connections. There is water given to residents as part of a relief package (and a lot of us get this. Every house where I stay gets 6kl a month at no charge).

    Population growth in Gauteng is exceeding the forecasts. Temperatures are high (evaporation!) and a strong El Nino has reduced rainfall across southern africa.

    We need to start looking at our own use of water. I see homes with sprinkler systems that water the lawn twice a day, every day. Sure, your lawn needs watering, but that often?

    In my home we’ve managed to reduce our water consumption to about 1/3 of what it used to be. Cutting back on watering, shorter showers, using the eco modes on appliances, flow restrictors on taps and showers, using grey water where we can, not running taps wastefully.

    There are real reductions that we all can achieve, and if we all did then the effect of that would be significant.

    • Allex Alexander says:

      1. Have you Raed Moeletsi Mbeki’s book “Architects of Poverty”?
      2. Have you listened to the late Desmond Tutu’s warning to the ANC if it failed to serve the people?
      Just for information.

      • Bob Dubery says:

        The answer to both questions is “no”. But I don’t see that has much to do with things like climate change, population growth, and all doing the bit we can do.

    • Citizen X says:

      I do agree we can do better to be less wasteful. In our household we have reduced consumption. However the issues are interrelated and includes incompetence, corruption, poor planning and execution. We cannot ignore this any longer by paying for services we just don’t get. It is time we all become active civilians in our communities

  • Lew Lipschitz says:

    Oxymoron
    Noun
    Meaning: a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction
    Example: World Class African City

  • justin Case says:

    “…while the Berea reservoir, which supplies the inner city, had poor pressure and no water.” Ferial, if there is no water then cannot be any pressure!

  • Graeme J says:

    How DARE Rand Water and JWater blame the consumption levels as an excuse for their incompetence and lack of planning!

    • Bob Dubery says:

      We’ve been here before, remember? I think it was about two years ago that Rand Water said that the average person in Johannesburg was consuming 300l per day. Remember that? I checked my bills around that time. City Of Johannesburg work out the average consumption per day on your meter, so the rest is easy. We were doing 320! That’s what went through our meter – that figure was not inflated by leaks or illegal connections or social grants. That was the wake up call for me and I’ve cut back substantially on that figure without any major inconvenience. So it’s worth checking your own metered usage and then having a think about what you can do.

  • John Lewis says:

    Yet people will vote in their droves for the ANC and the small parties that enable this come elections.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Joburg’s collapse, proudly brought to you by Panyaza Lesufi, architect of our current administration here. At no point at all did Lesufi consider the citizens of Joburg when he foisted Gwamanda onto us as mayor. Remember that at the polls come May 29!

  • Yaakov Rashi says:

    Free Palestine! If Palestine is free then we are all free. Why does this article not address water restrictions in Gaza?

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    No surprise here
    An ex RWB employee told me a few years ago that Maintenance was cut to improve financial results and boost bonuses.
    I was a bit sceptical as I thought it was a well run operation.
    How wrong I was.
    Did they catch the shooter of the RWB executive, rhetorical question.

  • eish Effedup says:

    The dams are full but the taps are dry… One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know who is to blame. It’s the fault of Apartheid of course.

  • James P says:

    What are the odds that the esteemed mayor can even read/comprehend those charts? I bet not.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    DA. The only way.

  • Ex Pat says:

    Who would have thought we would have sunk to this level?

    “The Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with his Zimbabwean counterpart, Dr Anxious Masuka, for the sale of treated water from Zimbabwe to a border town in northern Limpopo.

    The bilateral agreement signed on Thursday (March 14) will see the supply of about 15 million cubic meters per annum (equal to 41 megaliters per day) of treated water from the Beitbridge Water Treatment Works in Zimbabwe to the Musina Local Municipality through a 20km pipeline”

    BusinessTech News

  • Trenton Carr says:

    Consequence management?
    Never heard of it.

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