Desalination is too costly, says Umgeni Water
Desalination had been punted as the panacea for the country’s water problems during the recent drought. In Durban, feasibility studies were conducted and two potential sites identified for pilot projects.
However, Umgeni Water chief executive Thamsanqa Hlongwa said that industries in Durban, especially on the coast, would have to buy-in if the initiative was to become a reality.
Hlongwa was responding to questions on the sidelines of the parastatal’s presentation on its achievements for the 2017/18 financial year.
“My wish is for all role players to get involved in the establishment of desalination plants. We’ve got to balance desalination with customer affordability. It is quite an expensive process to desalinate seawater,” Hlongwa said.
Desalination is the process of removing unwanted minerals from sea water to make it drinkable.
In July, 2015, Umgeni Water completed a detailed feasibility study on two 150million litres per day seawater desalination plants. The study investigated the potential implementation of desalination along the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal at Tongaat and at the Lovu River Estuary (south of Durban).
The sites, according to the water utility’s Infrastructure Master Plan for 2018/19 - 2048/49, are located on either side of the Mgeni Supply Area and would have the ability to sufficiently augment the Mgeni, South Coast and North Coast systems in the medium term with supply to areas in eThekwini, Ugu District and iLembe District Municipalities. No financial cost estimates were given to run the plants if they were to be built.
“Topography is another challenge we have. At 150m above sea level, areas like Musgrave would not benefit. There will be a need for a pump so those on the coast line would benefit.
“The feasibility studies for the two plants included designs, testing the quality of water in the Indian Ocean and nothing more. The costs are too high,” he said.
Hlongwa said the Midmar Water Works channelled 250million litres of water to eThekwini daily, and that the supply and demand in the municipality was equal. “This could present a challenge if there was interruption of supply or if there was a drought. We could be in a crisis, so people still need to use water sparingly,” he said.
Gabisile Mathenjwa, chairperson of the Umgeni board, said the entity had amassed a surplus of R1.2billion during the financial year in question.
She said the strength of the entity’s balance sheet would allow them to go to market.
Mathenjwa, however, raised a concern about the invasion of 10 Umgeni Water projects by “military veterans”, business forums and community-based groups that demanded a “slice” of the projects.
She said the groups did not understand compliance requirements, procurement processes and Umgeni’s policy and legislation.
eThekwini Municipality did not respond to a request for comment.