State of Bfn water sinking

A water leak that had been cordoned off in Fauna. PHOTO: Bonolo Moloi

In light of National Water Week 2023, Bloemfontein Courant spoke to local experts from the University of the Free State (UFS) to unpack the current state of water in the city.

Tony Turton. PHOTO: Supplied

According to a professor at the UFS and specialist in water as a national security risk, Tony Turton, South Africa became a water-constrained economy in 2002 when the National Water Resource Strategy announced that we had allocated 98% of all the water available.

“Since then, we have down-graded our availability, partially due to sewage and mining pollution, but also due to changes in rainfall. South Africa has simply run out of water, and until our leadership understands that business as usual is not an option, our economy will continue to flounder,” he explained.

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Entomology, Patricks Otomo, said that National Water Week is aimed at reminding us all that we are the custodians of our water and that it is our responsibility to conserve and protect national water resources.

Locally both experts agree that the state of water is in a concerning position.

Free State Premier Mxolisi Dukwana has recently met with stakeholders to discuss water issues across the eight municipalities in the province. According to reports, some of these municipalities have been forced to implement planned water-shedding whilst at most, water leaks or burst pipes have also played a major role.  “A look at municipal notice boards reveals the disturbingly high incidence of water outages in cities and towns in the Free State. The state of our water has entered a critical twilight,” Otomo alluded.

A water leak in Kenneth Kaunda Road has since been fixed after leaking for weeks. PHOTO: Gypseenia Lion

Ward councillor David Mc Kay said the water infrastructure system is currently under severe pressure. “The infrastructure is old and dilapidated. The lack of regular maintenance is the main problem. During the past decade, little or no maintenance has taken place to the metro suburban network system which has recently culminated in a massive increase in severe pipe bursts throughout the metro.”

David Mc Kay. PHOTO: Supplied

The increase in water leakages, according to Mc Kay, is caused by several reasons, which include water-saturated ground due to excessive rain, and the lack of resources such as materials, vehicles, and labour. “This is the reason for the culmination of the huge backlog of approximately 180 leaks throughout the metro (22 in ward 18 alone). Some of these leaks were first reported 6 months ago, but due to specialised parts or lack of excavation equipment (TLB) the leak has been left to erode the area further and waste millions of litres of water.”

He said that currently there is a loss of over 35% of water due to leaks and illegal connections, substantiated by the latest Auditor-General’s report.

In a previous interview with Courant, Maruping Rapudungoane from Bloem Water explained one of the challenges behind water shortages is load-shedding, which affects the pumping of bulk water and further causes reservoir levels to remain low. The other matter is the heavy rainfall and lightning that affects key strategic infrastructure performance. Long-term solutions are, however, in place.

Maruping Rapudungoane from Bloem Water. PHOTO: Supplied

The experts Otomo and Turton attest to the fact that although good rains are welcome, rainwater still needs to be stored and treated before it is safe for use and made available to consumers.“Our South African economy became water-constrained in 2002, capital-constrained in 2013, and it is now also energy and human resource constrained. We need to depoliticise the management of water if we are to again thrive as a nation,” Turton concluded.

Under this year’s theme, Accelerating for Change, Bloemfontein Courant challenges you to help the city by using water sparingly.

Gypseenia Lion