South Africa Drought Reduces Water Supply as Curbs Sought

  • Daily demand for water exceeding country's storage ability
  • Gauteng province won't have `long-term' water shortages

Water usage by customers of the biggest South African provider exceeds what it’s able to store by more than 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools each day as the nation experiences record temperatures and the worst drought in 23 years.

Daily demand by clients of Rand Water Services (Pty) Ltd. is currently 4.9 billion liters (1.3 billion gallons), while the system is storing only 1.9 billion liters, Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane told reporters Friday in the capital, Pretoria. Normal demand is about 4.5 billion liters and storage about 5.8 billion liters, with the high temperatures raising evaporation rates, she said. An Olympic pool can hold 2.5 million liters.

The government is urging consumers to use water sparingly as high usage compounds low rainfall. Some parts of Johannesburg went without water for 24 hours this week as pumping from reservoirs couldn’t keep up with demand.

“Our joint efforts have the potential to yield significant water savings that would go a long way to improve the water security of our country,” Mokonyane said. People living in wealthier parts of the country, especially Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, need to cut back on water usage, she said.

“The pattern indicates that it’s the northern suburbs, it’s not Soweto,” she said, referring to a township south-west of Johannesburg that was once home to Nelson Mandela. “We definitely have to look at that. Sprinklers, car-washing, it’s business as usual,” in the northern suburbs, she said.

Even so, there will be no major water shortages in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province that contains Johannesburg and Pretoria, in the “medium to long term,” Mokonyane said.

One possible supply of water to Gauteng is through the rehabilitation of acid mine water in abandoned and derelict mines. Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau said a solution to use this polluted water to ease the shortage appeared feasible. "We have done technical tests that seem very promising and we hope to do an announcement soon," he said. The Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, a state-owned company that provides bulk water infrastructure, has been experimenting on how the water can be rehabilitated.

South Africa’s dams were 63.4 percent full as of Nov. 9, compared with 76.4 percent in the same week last year, the Department of Water and Sanitation said Friday. The drought is affecting 2.7 million households, or 18 percent of the country’s population, Mokonyane said.

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