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Businesses Need To Adapt If They Are To Survive The Water Crisis

The World Economic Forum has identified a Global Water Crisis as the top risk facing humanity for the next decade. Any drastic fluctuation in water quality, availability or price increase has the potential to affect entire sectors.

Author: Linden Smith – Energy Engineer at GCX Carbon & Energy

This past month, the 2017 Water Indaba was held in Rawsonville where National Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister, Nomvula Mokonyane, admitted that the water crisis was overwhelming and that the impact of the drought caught the country off guard. This offers little comfort to an anxious business community looking for solutions to navigate through these volatile times.

Western Cape dam water levels remain critically low, at just 23.1% and Premier Helen Zille has declared the province a disaster zone in order to deal with the ongoing crisis. The introduction of level 4b water restrictions requires Capetonians to only use potable water for drinking, cooking and essential washing with a limit of 87 litres per person per day.

A significant contributing factor to the Cape Town water crisis is the fact that over the last decade Cape Town’s population has grown by 55%, while dam storage capacity has only increased by 15% over the same period. If you were to factor in the increase in commercial activity, the result is a disproportionate increase in demand compared to the increase in supply. Climate Change has just exacerbated the problem as rainfall in the Western Cape has been gradually decreasing over time.

The World Economic Forum has identified a Global Water Crisis as the top risk facing humanity for the next decade. Any drastic fluctuation in water quality, availability and any inevitable price increase has the potential to affect entire sectors and their competitiveness both locally and abroad. South Africa’s water supply is inextricably linked to power generation, as the country’s coal-fired power plants consume between 2-3% of the total potable water. Many of these plants are located in severely water-stressed areas. In the event of extreme water shortages, the potential knock-on effect could have dire consequences for energy production. In the last year, the price of water has increased by more than 25%. This alone should be a driver to investigate water-related interventions within businesses. To continue operating, a business must learn how to do more with less. Achieving that goal is an opportunity as well as a necessity. Water is literally embedded in everything that is produced and consumed. Consider what would happen if the water was cut off to a typical commercial office block; the air-conditioning system, toilets, kitchen and cleaning services would all cease to function resulting in the company closing its doors and incurring a loss until the water is restored.

Every business has unique water requirements, however irrespective of its size or function all businesses can benefit from reducing their water consumption. Through increased water efficiency, the following benefits can be realised:

  • Cost Savings – reducing municipal water consumption immediately reduces water associated charges.
  • Reduced wastewater – less bulk water treatment is required.
  • Conservation of a precious natural resource
  • Enhanced reputation and competitive advantage

As we attempt to jump-start the economy, we can expect to see an increase in the demand for water. Business and industry, therefore, have a responsibility to become more efficient water users. Best practise would require organisations to embark on a Water Stewardship Programme.  A successful water program is dependent on the following key steps:

  • Gaining senior management support and commitment.
  • Conducting site assessments to get a greater understanding of a how and where a facility uses water.
  • Determining what the external physical or institutional risks are within the areas they do business and where changes in water quality, availability, or price would most materially affect the business.
  • Determining an accurate baseline for the organisation using the water data collected.
  • Developing a water efficiency plan that outlines reduction targets and strategies.
  • Implementing and prioritising the identified initiatives.
  • Measuring the savings achieved.
  • Developing an awareness campaign to report achievements and address behavioural changes.

Below are some of the more common water-saving initiatives:

  • Installation of water-efficient taps with an aerator or flow restrictor.
  • Installation of lever or mixer taps.
  • Avoid washing up under running taps.
  • Consider installing automatic or sensor taps.
  • Replace single-flush toilets with dual-flush toilets.
  • Convert to waterless urinals.
  • Encourage staff and customers to limit showers to 4 minutes or less.
  • Install water-efficient shower heads.
  • Regularly check for leaks and fix them immediately.

Businesses generally obtain their water from the municipal supply. However, in many cases, it is possible to use non-potable water for certain purposes (e.g. flushing toilets). Using non-potable water can reduce your water bills and make your business more environmentally sustainable. The quality of non-potable water will vary depending on its source and the level of treatment applied and so may contain biological hazards such as bacteria, viruses, or chemical and metal residues. Therefore, it may not be suitable for use in certain applications and/or business sectors.

Non-potable water sources typically include the following:

  • Recycled water
  • Stormwater
  • Greywater

Companies should consider the Operational Health and Safety implications with regard to the use, handling, storage, and transportation of non-potable water within the workplace.

The drought has had a severe impact on the country’s economy, compounded by the fact that each year R7 billion is spent nationally on avoidable water losses. Most provinces are facing challenges of crumbling infrastructure, rampant corruption, lack of financial resources and crippling skills shortages. Therefore, businesses have to take it upon themselves to safeguard and futureproof their operations. The real risk of water to a business has less to do with the cost of water reflected on the balance sheet and more to do with the cost of not having water. Water is embedded in literally everything that we produce and consume. Regardless of how much rain falls in the Western Cape over the coming months, interventions are necessary and restrictions must be observed. Tight restrictions can be expected to remain in place until dam storage capacity returns to well over 70%.

Organisations and companies who wish to learn more about how they can reduce their water consumption can contact GCX at or call 021 702 4058

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