Owing to its water-intensive nature, new mining and infrastructural development need to be carefully considered in South Africa, says Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Joan Warburton-McBride, who believes that, for the same reason, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) should not be an option to mitigate the country’s energy crisis.
“If we are to have water in the future to sustain our communities and our economy, we have to realise that the water-intensive mining and fracking industries are unaffordable,” says Warburton-McBride.
“To frack one well once, between two-million and eight-million gallons of water is required – maybe even more,” she explains, adding that very little water is reused during the fracking process, owing to the high costs of water reuse.
Warburton-McBride admits that new mines are encouraged to treat their wastewater, but she points out that neither the exact quantity of water used nor the quantity of water reused in the mining industry is ever verified.
She further highlights the damage that water scarcity and increased water prices can impose on the quality of life for those living in the country, adding that outside investors take water availability into consideration when making decisions, owing to its effect on social stability and the quality of labour.
Moreover, Warburton-McBride predicts that water demand from commerce and industry will continue to increase indefinitely. She adds that, in urban areas, the degree of development and the influx of job seekers will increase water requirements for the commercial and domestic sectors.
Warburton-McBride highlights several large corporations in Gauteng that depend heavily on water, such as various water bottling companies, brewing and bottling company South African Breweries (SAB), steel major ArcelorMittal South Africa and soft drink producer Amalgamated Beverage Industries (ABI). The tourism industry also depends on reliable access to water because, typically, tourists avoid unsanitary environments, she notes.
In conjunction with South Africa’s growing water demand, there is an imminent threat of water scarcity, owing to an undersupply of water.
“Municipalities have been asked to decrease their water consumption by 33% and this will have to be achieved by improving water maintenance and infrastructure,” says Warburton-McBride.
She therefore emphasises the water-saving opportunities if infrastructure is repaired and replaced, as decaying infrastructure contributes to up to 30% of water lost in transit.
Many municipalities, however, do not have sufficient funds to cover the full scope of the necessary upgrades, she adds.
Further, water pollution increases water scarcity, which requires a process of removing all the invasive particles in catchment areas and regulating the polluting source.
However, Warburton-McBride points out that power failures at pumpstations also create an undersupply of water.
“Further, the acid mine drainage situation in South Africa, perpetuated by the mining industry, requires a thorough and holistic remedy and, if only partially treated, as is currently being done, the water around mines is unusable and could be so saline that it destroys the Vaal river completely,” she warns.
In terms of improving water supply in South Africa, Warburton-McBride emphasises that responding to the increasing water demand requires attention to quality, recycling and purification.
“Ninety-eight per cent of South Africa’s water is supplied to users, which means that the only way to create more water is through recycling,” she explains.
Water scarcity can also be addressed by reducing water demand. Agriculture, comprising 50% of industrial water use, can also save considerable amounts of water by adopting water-conservative methods of irrigation, as current systems lead to a considerable amount of evaporation.
Demand in residential areas, which comprise 18% of South African water demand, can be curbed by reducing toilet cistern water use through modifications and by installing automatic turn-off taps.