The REDUCE of Water Responsibility

Dec 1 / Aldert Brink

A Brief History of Water Supply

Blog Series: The 5 R's of Water Responsibility
Throughout history, whenever there’s a water shortage people start to search for supplementary sources and systems to increase the supply of water. 
Across the world, continents and millennia apart, a multitude of examples exist of systems carrying water to highly populated areas. The Roman aqueduct systems are one example. Built over the span of about 500 years, around 2 millennia ago, and all over Europe, this remains one of the oldest examples of water supply systems. The Roman empire’s legacy speaks of brilliant engineering, making them one of the greatest civilisations in history. Civil engineering examples of roads, bridges, aqueducts and sewer systems built 2000 years ago, still exist.
Another example of a water supply system closer to home, is the Integrated Vaal River System (IVRS). The IVRS centers around the Vaal Dam, which is the main water source for Gauteng including industrial, agriculture, and towns in its entire catchment area.

The IVRS supplies an area stretching from Gauteng in the north to Lesotho in the south and Ermelo in the east to Kuruman in the west. According to the Department of Water and Sanitation, 46% of the economy and 33% of the population of South Africa depend on the IVRS. In 1970 the Vaal River System could not supply sufficient water for the demand anymore. It was integrated with the Tugela River catchment area, located in Kwazulu-Natal, in 1974 via the Tugela-Vaal Transfer Scheme. In 1986 the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) was established as a contributor to the IVRS. It is a multi-phased project to supply water to Gauteng and generate hydroelectricity for Lesotho. The LHWP currently supplies water to the system from the Katse Dam and Mohale Dam in Lesotho to the Vaal Dam via water tunnels and river networks.

Supplying water to one of the driest countries on earth

Water supply to growing populations had been a challenge for a very long time. With a rapidly growing population, our water sources are heavily overburdened. South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries on earth, and we are rapidly making our way to the top 20 driest countries. 
Where can we find more water?
There are many ways to 'find' more water to quench an increasing thirst for water supply, but it is not always the best solution. Desalinating seawater, building dams, harvesting rainwater, and drilling boreholes to extract groundwater are all potential sources of freshwater, but they can be expensive and time-consuming to implement.
Increasing water supply takes time, planning, money, and maintenance. It often has a negative impact on the environment. We are out of time. It is important to use water wisely and to find ways to reduce our demand for water, then we can start looking for new sources.

The fastest and cheapest solution to 'supply' more water

Start with demand. Reducing demand does not take months or years of planning. It is a low maintenance and low budget (or no budget) option, and it has a positive impact on the environment. In certain instances, responsible water conservation measures can significantly reduce the need to seek out new water sources. By reducing your own water demand, the system does not need to supply more water to a growing population. 
Curbing water demand is the quickest and most cost- effective strategy to increase water availability. When consumption is low, implementing sustainable supplementary solutions becomes more efficient, both operational and cost.

Can we do it? Yes we can!

Is it possible to reduce demand? Yes, there are a few ways to reduce your demand.
Only use the water you need: It can easily happen that you are not aware of the water that wastes away when you are using it. For example, irrigation. When we irrigate a certain time per zone without considering the kind of plants, pressure of the system, etc. we might use more water than necessary. A system at 4 bar pressure uses less water than at 6 bar in the same amount of time. Plants need water, not time. Irrigate the target area, not pavements and walkways. 
When you shower too long, you use more water than needed. Do not keep the tap running while brushing your teeth. This is only a few examples. Can you think of more places where we use more water than needed?
Fix leaks: Look for water leaks and fix it. Even if it is not at home, but at school, a shopping mall, the office, or any other public place. Find someone responsible for maintenance or management. They might not be aware of a leak. Where did you see a water leak today? Did you try to report it?
Efficiency devices: Interrupted toilet flushing mechanisms ensure that only enough water is used to clean the bowl and that the cistern does not get emptied with every flush. Tap-aerators and water efficient shower heads reduce the amount of water used without compromising on convenience. Think of a few places where you can use water more efficiently. What can you do about it?
It is not complex or expensive to reduce water demand. It is within everyone's power. We can do better.

Case Study

By being mindful, Pretoria Boys High School are able to continue reducing their Water demand and increasing the effectiveness of their backup system.
  • Months of Action: 23
  • Reduction in Demand: 21%
  • WATER SAVED: 36 229,89 kilolitres
Pretoria Boys High School was founded in 1901 making it one of the oldest schools in South Africa. This school is one of the largest public schools in Gauteng and the largest boys's school in the country. The school has 1495 learners enrolled and 300 educators. Besides needing water during the day like any other school, this school has 3 boarding houses accommodating over 300 learners. The premises also has a few houses where some of the personnel reside permanently. The terrain covers a large area with lush gardens and impressive sport fields. This obviously takes a lot of water to sustain.
The Schools Act of South Africa states that a school should stop activities and close after 3 hours of interrupted water supply. Failing infrastructure in this older part of the city, combined with reservoirs not filling up during load shedding, sometimes causes long water supply interruptions at schools. PBHS has access to ground water and decided to set up a back up system with water tanks and boreholes to ensure the continuous supply of water. 
Research and planning for the backup system made them aware of their average water use. This awareness stirred a mindfulness for water. PBHS then took the very sensible step to reduce water demand before looking at alternative water sources (i.e. boreholes).
Awareness training, fixing leaks and installing efficiency devices reduced the historic water demand by 21%. In this way relieving the burden on municipal supply and making the new backup system much more effective.
Note: Leaks are not always visible. Water wil find the shortest and easiest way to flow. Sometimes a leak may be in a water pipe that was built into a wall. Small cracks and gaps between stones form a pathway for water to run without ever surfacing. A leak may start small, but because water can be corrosive a small leak quickly turns into a big leak. The same is true for leaks under paved or tarred areas and building floors. This is a reasonably young project and due to the age of the buildings and vastness of the terrain, leak detections is an ongoing process. The 21% reduction in historic water consumption is expected to improve significantly in months to come.
Here's to the mindful Water Warriors of Pretoria Boys High School!
Check out our blog series The 5 R's of Water Responsibility as we dive a little deeper into each of these. Remind, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Recharge.
2. The REDUCE of Water Responsibility.

#IntelligentWater - Reduce Demand First

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