South Africa needs a water-conscious, water-smart approach to mitigating looming water deficit

20th March 2017 By: Natasha Odendaal - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

A new report ‘Scenarios for the future of water South Africa’ has revealed how the drought-stricken, water-scarce country needs to transition towards a water-conscious, water smart economy with stronger water governance.

In the report unpacking various scenarios, the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA) and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) outlined that there were actions that could be “taken now” to better prepare the country for all eventualities.

“We have already taken steps towards greater water consciousness as a nation during the 2016/17 drought,” the report said.

However, water was increasingly becoming a scarce resource and, based on current consumption trends, South Africa is expected to face a water deficit of 17% by 2030.

“South Africa's water crisis is not a future problem. It's an urgent challenge today,” the parties warned.

The report highlights that to become more water-conscious, South Africa needs to be equipped with sufficient knowledge and skills in the water sector and to educate on the value of water and water conservation in schools, while promoting and sharing best practices from water stewardship partnerships and programmes through an online platform aimed at protecting water resources, developing skills and providing job opportunities in water management and wastewater treatment, besides several others.

In addition, WWF-SA and BCG encouraged the implementation of strong water governance with resilient stakeholder partnerships; the establishment of water-use compliance and disclosure reporting requirements for JSE-listed companies; the regulation, enforcement and effective collection of water tariffs; the enforcement of punitive action for noncompliance with water-use entitlements and wastewater treatment requirements and incentivising the private sector through water stewardship programmes to plan, invest in and implement water management systems and infrastructure.

To manage water supply and demand more rigorously and protect water resources, it was also suggested that water tariffs be differentiated across various industries and consumption levels; the charges for water use over a certain consumption threshold be increased; stakeholders be incentivised to monitor and rectify their contribution to water pollution; a "fit for purpose" domestic water policy be established; and critical water infrastructure be fast-tracked by resolving bottlenecks identified as delaying the infrastructure pipeline.

Lastly, the report supported a water-smart economy commercialising low-water technologies for industry and agriculture.

This included the adoption of smart water technologies in irrigation techniques and water reuse to sustain the agriculture industry; the stimulation of commercialisation and development of new technologies in water management and the promotion of the implementation of new solutions; enhancing information sharing and awareness of water users' impact through centralised data-sharing platforms; and leveraging technology to set up rule-based algorithms to calculate and control how much water should be used according to seasonal and cyclical patterns.