Agriculture#WaterWednesday: Dam building era is over – expert
─── ELZETTE BOUCHER 05:00 Wed, 07 Feb 2024
South Africa’s lived experience of the famous line in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink”, is reaching boiling point.
In the first of a series of interviews on the topic of water management, OFM Agri considers Water and Sanitation Minister, Senzo Mchunu’s recent call at the Water Service Authority summit that all citizens and industry – including farmers, should use water resources responsibly.
Prof. Anthony Turton, a water expert from the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State, says the global narrative generally centres around population growth and the enormous pressure on freshwater resources. However, the South African narrative is completely different.
“At the moment we actually don't have a water scarcity in South Africa. The government says that there are a whole bunch of issues, but those are not necessarily valid narratives. The absolute core problem is the failure of the institutions of governance.”
The government has acknowledged that inadequate funding, vandalism, sewage losses, construction issues, lack of capacity and cooperation, as well as infrastructure deterioration continue to persist and that R89.8 billion more would be needed each year for the next 10 years to achieve water security.
When considering the demand side, it’s estimated that farming utilises about 60% of raw water in South Africa. Irrigation makes up the bulk of this and further estimates show that about 30% of this water is lost.
On the supply side, it’s mentioned that the agricultural sector underutilises groundwater and that the government is looking at infrastructure projects like raising the height of dam walls to increase catchment.
Turton, however, says this is not a feasible option. “What this is actually about is an induced scarcity, because while we have lots of water available, we have so damaged that water that it is no longer fit for purpose. I don't see a future for raising dam walls because there simply is not enough water left to capture.”
He explains if one were to envision a theoretical map of South Africa over which 100 units of water were expelled as rainfall, then of those units only eight end up in the rivers, and the other 92 get lost immediately to evaporation and to transpiration from plants.
In our next episode, Turton explains what needs to be done to address our water problems.