18/10/2011. Minister of Water and Enviromental Affairs Edna Molewa during the media briefing on the National Climate Change Response Policy which was approved by Cabinet. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Johannesburg - Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has estimated that South Africa could start using purified water from acid mine drainage (AMD) by 2017.

Water from the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands project is also expected to come on stream in August 2020, a period where water demand and supply is expected to intersect.

These developments should lower the fears that the country would face serious water shortages by 2030, as has previously been reported.

At the presentation of South Africa’s second National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS2), approved by the cabinet last week, Molewa said there was a major opportunity to treat AMD water in the Witwatersrand and estimated that this water would contribute 5 percent or 67 million cubic litres of Rand Water’s annual supply to the Witwatersrand.

The department was on track with its plans to treat AMD water as it had begun work on installing pumps in the central basin. Those pumps would operate before AMD reached critical levels.

The NWRS2 proposed multiple approaches to deal with water management in the country and water security. Yesterday Molewa maintained that South Africa was not going to completely run out of water and she was confident her department’s plans would ensure the country would not get to that point.

The strategy emphasised water conservation, water demand management, increased use of ground water, reuse of waste water, the creation of dams and transfer schemes, desalination and treatment of AMD.

But even though South Africa would not completely run out of water, Molewa said the surface water on which the country relied for consumption would not be sufficient to support the growing demand as the economy and population grew.

The strategy had thus put more responsibility on intensive water-using industries, such as agriculture and mining, to improve the way they managed and used water and eliminated waste. “Everyone in the sector will have to play the ball,” Molewa said.

On the desalination of sea water, the department was at an advanced stage of investigating ways to achieve this in the Ethekwini Municipality and in the City of Cape Town. The minister said there were a number of smaller schemes along the southern Cape as well as inland projects where desalination would happen.

“It’s certainly an option which has already been implemented. But... it’s an expensive option,” she said.

The strategy also specified targets to reduce preventable water loses. Molewa indicated that 36.8 percent of municipal water was lost through leaks from worn-out infrastructure and non-payments.

The water lost was estimated at half the size of the Vaal Dam and worth about R11 billion.

The department cut its water licence application backlog from 4 000 last year to 300 and as at March this year, only 39 mines were operating without licences, Molewa said. - Business Report