Water flowing from pipe against blurred mountain background. Shot in Hottentots-Holland Mountains nature reserve, near Somerset West, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa.

JOHANNESBURG, SA, (April 21, 2020) – South Africa is among the more water-stressed countries in the world. It has abundant water resources in some areas, but many parts receive rainfalls well below average. Several of SA’s largest and most productive cities are in such zones – this was made very apparent through the recent drought in the Western Cape and ongoing droughts in other areas.

Xylem, a leader in developing innovative water solutions through smart technology, works to help countries and communities secure and manage their water supplies. Xylem South Africa is engaged in projects across the country and the African continent. We help our customers transport, treat, test and efficiently use water in public utility, residential, commercial, agricultural, mining and industrial settings.

As part of this goal, it is important to highlight how water is often wasted. While Xylem is producing sophisticated solutions for improved water management, the biggest gains manifest when people understand how they can help reduce water wastage.

“Water has become a modern convenience for many, so we sometimes don’t appreciate what it takes to get such a precious resource into pipes and out of taps,” said Chetan Mistry, Strategy and Marketing Manager for Xylem Africa “A little insight can go a long way, not only to build better water-saving habits but also to make the right choices on how to better manage water and water infrastructure.”

To help encourage discussion and enlightenment on water management, here are several ways through which water is often wasted at a country and community level:

Ageing infrastructure

Piping water from source to consumers is one of civilisation’s most ingenious inventions, from the Roman Aqueducts to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. But these systems require infrastructure to stay in good shape. The South African government appreciates the importance of such maintenance. It has earmarked R900 billion rand ($61 billion) over the next decade to improve its water-supply and storage infrastructure. The Department of Water Affairs estimated that more than one-third of available water is lost due to leaking pipes, ageing and broken infrastructure, vandalism and contamination. Well-maintained water infrastructure can realise enormous savings for the resource and fiscus.

Poor water management

Human expansion has dramatically disrupted the availability of water. An estimated 1.4 billion people live in closed basins – rivers that no longer reach the ocean, often due to human activities. The overallocation of river flows has resulted in many different problems, including overdrawn groundwater aquifers – the vital feeders of many surface water systems. Significant numbers of water bodies are polluted, from estuaries to coastal zones and even the oceans themselves. Much of this was done to satisfy short-term economic goals, but the long-term consequences may very well undo all those gains. All these aspects must be managed, treating water sources as strategic assets to help countries prosper. They are not inexhaustible – proper management will deliver greater availability.

Insufficient use of water data

Human population sizes tripled during the 20th century, and water for human purposes grew sixfold. That doesn’t include industrial and other applications of water. As urbanisation increases our thirst, it’s vital to understand the picture on the ground to plan ahead. The key to unlocking this is usage data. While infrastructure can be modernised to improve data, most utilities already have SCADA systems that produce large amounts of data. They just often do nothing with it. This means there is a stockpile of insight that could be exploited now to make gains for water. In some cases, utilities found they needed no new investments in infrastructure once they could act on the pictures created by their data. Data is perhaps the most overlooked and underused method to address large-scale water shortages and wastage.

Little recycling of water

Water recycling already happens – our modern communities could not survive without doing so. Countless litres are recycled every year from different sources, ranging from risky greywater to dangerous blackwater. But despite these efforts, not enough is being done to reclaim more. For example, Xylem recently participated in a project that helped a prominent local mine extract nickel from its chemical wastewater, establishing a new revenue stream for the mine and reclaiming water. There are many more opportunities to recycle wastewater and chemical water, and the world may have become a bit too complacent with its current recycling activities. We’re off to a good start, but more can be achieved in this area.

Outdated irrigation and farming techniques

South Africa has a very prominent agriculture sector, and it’s often at the leading edge of new farming techniques and technologies. Yet more gains can be made by focusing attention on irrigation and farming techniques. Flood irrigation is a common technique to nourish crops, but it wastes water and can pollute waterways with fertilisers. The wrong crop choices can also have a major impact on water usage. Remedies to improve these vary, and their usefulness depends on the context of the region. Examples include drip irrigation and covering crops to prevent water evaporation. Irrigation only feeds around 25-30% of South African crops, the rest being supported by rainfall. There is a significant opportunity to improve farming techniques and save water at the same time.

About Xylem

Xylem (XYL) is a leading global water technology company committed to solving critical water and infrastructure challenges with technological innovation. Our more than 16,000 diverse employees delivered revenue of $5.25 billion in 2019. We are creating a more sustainable world by enabling our customers to optimize water and resource management, and helping communities in more than 150 countries become water-secure. Join us at www.xylem.com.

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