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Expert opinion: Water problem

South African metropolitan areas are heading for a major water crisis by 2020, a former director general of the Department of Water Affairs has warned.

Mike Muller, who now serves as an adjunct professor at the University of the Witwatersrand and sits on the national planning commission, said at a Water and Energy Forum in Sandton this week that it was time for metropolitans to start “panicking” about their water supplies.

“I really do think in most of our metros, if we don’t panic now, if we don’t take action now, we will be in a crisis by 2020,” Muller said in comments quoted by the Saturday Star newspaper.

“We’re not going to run out of water, but there are some hot spots. EThekwini [Durban] is actually the most vulnerable metro at the moment — they’ve been living a charmed life.”

Muller said eThekwini “should” have run out of water during the Soccer World Cup and that it “should” run out of water during the UN climate-change talks this year, but the metro would “probably get away with it”.

‘We need to panic at the right time’
“We know many municipal users are not planning at all, or if they are, they’re not acting on their plans,” Muller said.

“All stakeholders must … move into action or we’re in trouble. I think we need to panic at the right time and the right time is now.”

Muller said the Vaal River system in Gauteng looked “disastrous”.

“We look as though we’re 25% short of water for the next 10 years,” Muller said.

“By the time we implement phase two of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project [in 2019], we’ll have been at risk for 10 years. Guaranteed there will be a drought.”

He blamed farmers in the Vaal area for stealing water for irrigation as well as water leakage and inefficient water use.

Muller said good water management was key to growth and development.

He said environmental campaigners around acid mine drainage, actually “distract” from the main challenges around water quality and the issue was “more about” companies trying to make profits out of the tailings of the mining industry. – Sapa

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