Water Crisis Bubbling Under the Surface

A water crisis is bubbling just under the surface in South Africa. The government has not maintained –  never mind expanded – the capacity of other State Owned Enterprises such as Transnet, Portnet, Eskom, or the road network to deal with growing demand, and here’s more evidence the water catchment, purification, or distribution utilities have not been managed any better. Writes News24:

Mbombela – The water affairs department intervened over the weekend in the crisis in Carolina, in Mpumalanga, where drinking water has been contaminated by acid mine water seepage…

He said the department had appointed a rapid reaction team of scientists and engineers to help local authorities remove heavy metals – iron, aluminium and manganese – from the drinking water.

At this stage, officials at the Chief Albert Luthuli local authority were pouring dozens of bags of lime into the town’s drinking water every day to try and raise pH levels and supply water to the approximately 15 000 local residents…

Local authorities have been trucking drinking water to Carolina from nearby Breyten and Chrissiesmeer.

Khumalo said the department had offered to assist the community financially while the water was being brought in, and to supply two water trucks.

Municipal water tariffs are well below a level that would allow the state to maintain and reinvest in water infrastructure. Also,  prices are too low to ration demand for water. There is massive excess demand owing to the relatively low public water prices.

Water tariffs have not kept up with other commodity price increases in recent years. This is set to change in the coming decade or two. Expect a massive reallocation of capital into water catchment, purification, and distribution infrastructure in coming years.

This is going to be water price crisis, as opposed to a water shortage crisis.

That said, the private sector is well placed to deal with the coming crisis, as water can be supplied and distributed outside of state control. While the state controls the fixed water distribution infrastructure in the form of pipelines, etc. the private sector would be able to service water demand, potentially for less, using trucks, the road network, and water storage facilities on residential properties. Unlike with Eskom and Telkom, the state does not have sole control over the methods through which water can be produced, distribute, and marketed.

To give you an idea of what may be to come, expect water truck-tanks delivering water to water storage tanks at your home, at a cost probably about double the current ~R4 per kilo liter you pay the municipality.