Durban - Emergency water restrictions – including shutting off tap water supply for nine hours a day, twice a week – are on the cards for tens of thousands of Durban homes as pressure mounts on the city to immediately chop water use by 15%.
One of the options raised in an internal document by the eThekwini water and sanitation unit is a complete shut-off of the water supply to dozens of suburbs across the city on Mondays and Wednesdays for some areas, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays for others.
If they go ahead, the cut-offs would last for nine hours daily, staggered across different time schedules, with some areas cut off during the day, and others during the night.
The cut-offs – or other measures yet to be announced – are expected to continue for several months at least, until the levels of the Midmar and Albert Falls dams reach at least 70%. Currently Midmar is at 46% and Albert Falls at just 36%, and both are unlikely to fill substantially until the next summer rains.
The cut-off schedule, details of which have already spread widely on social media, appear to cover all suburbs north of the Umgeni River such as Durban North, La Lucia, Glenashley and Umhlanga as well as inland areas such as KwaMashu, Phoenix and Mount Edgecombe in the northern region, along with Queensburgh, Chatsworth, Sarnia and Yellowwood Park in the central region.
To the West, it covers Westville, Pinetown, parts of Clermont and KwaDabeka, Cowie’s Hill, Reservoir Hills, New Germany, Kloof and Shongweni.
In the south, affected areas include several sections of Umlazi, along with Folweni, Umbumbulu and eMkhomazi.
Responding to queries from The Mercury on Monday, the city said mayor James Nxumalo would make the announcement “in due course” after an official report was approved by Exco.
Water and Sanitation head Ednick Msweli said his department had been directed by the national Department of Water and Sanitation to reduce water consumption immediately by 15%.
He also confirmed that an internal document had been prepared listing a variety of water-saving options – including nine-hour cut-offs twice a week – but said no final decisions had been reached.
“That (nine-hour cut-offs) would be a last resort,” he said, suggesting it would be premature to say whether this drastic measure would be taken.
“We are having urgent meetings today and tomorrow morning, so maybe at this time tomorrow we will be able to communicate a final decision,” he said on Monday afternoon.
However, it is understood that repeated calls for a voluntary reduction in water usage in Durban over the past two months have yielded a paltry 1% reduction.
According to an eThekwini internal document titled “Water restriction implementation plan”, Durban has to reduce water by 91 million litres a day (a 15% reduction compared with the current volume of 606 million litres daily).
The plan also talks about fitting water-restriction devices to thousands of households, reducing the pressure in water pipes, a daily quota on the volume of potable water treated daily by Umgeni Water and fines of R500 for individuals or R10 000 for industry and commercial customers that fail to achieve a “significant decrease” in water use.
The most drastic option – twice weekly shut-offs for nine hours a day – could also trigger a significant increase in burst water pipes, as ageing infrastructure buckles under the strain of air bubbles and sudden water pressure changes as supplies are switched off and on more frequently.
“The challenge with interrupting water supply of this magnitude commonly results in an increase in bursts, leaks and workload,” the internal document acknowledges.
“Although this is not ideal, when working with a quota system for each area, it is unavoidable as the quota of water allocated to an area/reservoir may be depleted before the planned shutdown times and water supply will be cut off.”
The proposed water rationing timetable divides the city into three groups.
Group A areas could expect water cut-offs on Mondays and Wednesdays. Group B would be cut off on Tuesday and Thursdays, while Group C (including the central business district) could expect cut-offs on certain nights.
How the water cut-offs could affect you
Here are some examples of proposed cut-offs contained in a 16-page draft internal water restriction plan and timetable circulated in Durban on Monday.
Beachway, Durban North and Glenashley (supplied by the Beachway reservoir) – no water from 10am to 7pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Red Hill, Durban North, Beachway, Athlone, Japanese Gardens, Riverside (supplied by the Durban North reservoir) – no water from 11.30am to 8.30pm on Mondays and no water from noon to 8pm on Wednesdays.
Umhlanga CBD (supplied by Umhlanga North reservoir) – no water from 7pm to 4am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Gateway shopping centre (supplied by Gateway reservoir) – no water from 11am to 8pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Umlazi sections C, D, B, V, A (supplied by Umlazi No 1 reservoir) – no water from 9pm to 4.30am on Mondays and Wednesdays. Elsewhere in Umlazi (sections AA, BB and CC) the cut-offs would be from 8.30am to 5.30pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Chatsworth area (Woodhurst, Westcliffe, Bayview Silverglen, Montford, Arena Park, Moorton, Crossmoor) – no water from 9am to 6pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Pinetown area (Pinetown CBD, Ashley, Caversham Glen, Cowie’s Hill, Farningham Ridge, Woodside, Dawncliffe, Paradise Valley and New Germany CBD) – no water from 8pm to 5am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Botha’s Hill, KwaNyuswa, Mabedlane, Umnamathe, Mgoqozi, Manqoba, Valley Trust, Emaqadini – no water from 9am to 6pm Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Malvern, Escombe, Northdene Industrial Park, Hillary, Queensburgh, Burlington, Queensmead Industrial Park – no water from 8am to 5pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.
KwaMashu sections J, K, L, M, N, F, G, H, B5, M – no water from 9am to 6pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.