Every drop counts

Witbank Dam level is dropping drastically.

Witbank Dam level is dropping drastically.
The dam is currently on 48.4% and decreases by 0.5% weekly. If no rain falls before December the dam level may go as low as 38%.

The local municipality is keeping a close watch on the level because as soon as it drops below 42% water restrictions will have to be implemented.

“The country is in a current drought cycle and we can not be sure whether we will have good summer rains. Long term trends suggest that we may have heavy rains early summer which may bring the dam levels up but that can not be guaranteed. We need the dam to reach at least 80% before the next winter period. Should it not rain we will indeed be in trouble,” the Municipal Manager Mr Theo van Vuuren warned.

The municipality’s water sources are limited and at this stage it sources 85% of its daily needs from the dam. Plans to make the municipality less dependant on the dam are well advanced but these take time and will never replace the dam as primary water source.

“Our neighbour, Steve Thwete Municipality is in the same predicament. Early winter we assisted them with water but we will not be able to do so again until good rains have fallen.”

The municipality is not sitting back and watching weather predictions, they are putting plans together to ensure that residents have this valuable commodity.

The development for further sources to reduce the current shortage and also dependency on the Witbank Dam as main source is ongoing. Since last month the much awaited package plan has started to operate and at this stage an average of just below 6ML per day is added to the system. This has already had a marked effect on areas that has been served from Point B and Empumuluweni and parts of KwaGuqa as well as parts of Tasbet Park, are for the first time receiving a more consistent water supply. This package plant will by year end by expanded to 20ML.
In addition the doubling of the current supply from the reclamation plant at Landau is on the cards and agreed to and should add another 12ML of water to the municipality during 2017.

Glencore Mine is also busy commissioning a reclamation plant near Ogies and funding has been secured to link this through a bulk pipe line to the reservoir at Phola. Further funding has also been secured to commission a new link between Phola and Wilge to provide that area with water. The importance of these projects which will all be completed during the first half of 2017 is that it will provide consistent and sufficient water to Phola, Ogies, Wilge and Clewer and reduce these areas dependence on the 50km long bulk pipe line from Point B in eMalahleni for water. This will also allow the 12ML a day, these areas require to be reallocated to the eMalahleni, Kwaguqa and Klarinet areas.

By end 2017 the current chronic shortages in water and inability to build up reserves to cover demand should electricity or other problems arise should be over.

“On a more innovative level, work to recycle water especially for industrial use is also making good progress and this may see a decrease in the demand on the Witbank Dam for non residential use over the next two years,” Van Vuuren added.

However, despite the progress that has been made to secure bulk resources and improve capacity, one of the biggest problems the municipality still face is the constant water spillages, mainly as a result of the huge number of pipe bursts and in cases where water meters are stolen.

On some days the water teams are faced with up to 12 pipe bursts.

“The capacity of our teams to attend to this number of problems is under pressure and this often leads to delays in restoring leaks and bursts,” Van Vuuren explained


To reduce water pipe bursts, a programme funded by government to replace asbestos pipes are being rolled out. This programme is in its third year and will continue for the foreseeable future.

Another bridge the municipality has to cross is the water losses because of illegal connections where many people are either bypassing their meters or connected illegally to the network in an unmetered manner, avoiding payment.
Municipal teams are correcting this when people are caught out but it remains a slow process.
An added area of concern is that up to 10ML of water a day is transported by various water tankers to areas with water outages and areas with no supply like the vast informal settlements.

“This is a constitutional obligation and will always be a service we need to provide. However, this is very costly and in its nature not efficient. The main solution remains the reduction of people staying in areas without formal water supply. The human settlement programme of the municipality supported by government will over the next two years see a huge number of families moving from areas to stands with formal services.”

The current housing backlog in the city is estimated at 40 000 of which 30 000 families are staying in informal areas. By formalising them they will also start paying for the water they consume and this will also assist in reducing waste of this resource.

Other initiatives to address the water situation in the city includes further refinements at the main water purification plant which will further reduce backwashing, the installation of more air valves to reduce pipe bursts as result of air locks, upgrades to the reservoirs and holding capacity and installation of more generators to allow pumping to continue during electricity outages. This will prevent reservoirs running dry and reduce recovery times.

“As requested before, everyone’s assistance is needed in dealing with all of the above. The municipal leadership and management take this seriously and plea for all residents of our municipality to use water sparingly,” Van Vuuren said.

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