Continuous load shedding will create water deficit by 2030, CSIR warns

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The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) says the escalated levels of load shedding are impacting the country’s water supply.

CSIR senior civil engineer Odwa Badi warned of a water supply deficit by 2030 if South Africa doesn’t act now to stabilise the erratic energy supply.

Stable electricity needed to produce water
At least 64% of South Africans have a reliable water supply, meaning 36% of the population is without it.

Of the country’s water supply, 61% goes to the agricultural sector, and 27% goes to the municipalities, which supply residents and commercial entities.

Badi said if the current load shedding crisis continues, the government will not reach its sustainable development goal of improving access to clean, reliable drinking water supply to all South Africans by 2030.

If anything, there will be a 17% deficit in water supply by 2023 if we do not address the current power crisis.

Over the next 10 years, the water department will also need R33 billion annually to resolve the deficit.

More difficult for SA to get water to residents
South Africa’s higher terrain means the country needs transmission and distribution pumps to get water from rivers to reservoirs and households.

Apart from lax maintenance of the country’s water infrastructure over the years, the electricity rationing has impacted security and reservoir operations.

“The electricity switching on and off is having a negative impact on our infrastructure,” said Badi.

“Supply must be consistent; the on and off does affect how the reservoir functions.”

Badi explained the last 15-20% of water in reservoirs must never filter into people’s taps, but the erratic power supply, in some cases, led to some of the sediment at the bottom of reservoirs being transported to residents.

Water supply security
With poverty and unemployment increasing, potential security risks exist, such as attacks on valuable water infrastructure. Reservoirs in isolated areas are particularly vulnerable and must always be well-lit as part of security measures.

However, the intensified load shedding has compromised the security of the country’s water resources.

Electricity is also needed to measure water inside the reservoirs and analyse rainfall to determine the water supply.

CSIR principal researcher in electricity, Warrick Pierce, says December 2022 had the highest levels of load shedding in the country’s history.

Pierce’s report revealed that from 2018, the country was previously predominantly on stage 2, but we escalated to stage 4 since June 2022.

When will load shedding end?
Pierce says there are two key metrics to measure the future of electricity supply.

“We first need to see the Eskom fleet stabilising. It’s like filling a bucket that has holes; you must start plugging them.”

Pierce says while there are enough megawatts online to supply energy, the functionality of Eskom’s fleet has significantly reduced since June last year.

The second metric is seeing significant megawatts being connected to the grid. “But that is still a few years away,” Pierce adds.

Narissa Subramoney/ The Citizen