Three official censuses in South Africa have been conducted since the first democratic elections in 1994. The first census was in 1996, wherein the population was measured at 40.6-million, and this figure increased by 10.4% to 44.8-million in 2001. In 2011 the population increased to 51.7-million, which represented a growth of 7-million people within this 10-year period. This speed and extent of population growth has accordingly put an ever-growing demand on our water supply as well as on the resources it takes to extract and transport water.
These circumstances certainly make a solid case towards the need for increased efficiency in water management systems.
This is particularly urgent in the agricultural sector, which accounts for a significant portion of all freshwater withdrawals in South Africa and is allocated the largest portion of South Africa’s available fresh water, with about 63% of this being allocated to agricultural irrigation. This is a sobering fact when one considers that only 12% of South Africa’s land is considered arable, with only 3% being rated as "truly fertile".
These sorts of numbers are hard to ignore and the water management system and technology manufacturers – in addition to the water authorities themselves, coupled with municipalities - have a duty to accelerate the implementation of possible solutions.
Measurement is definitely an important first step.
The lack of proper measurement and monitoring of farmers’ water use is highlighted by AgriSA natural resources director Nic Opperman who said that South Africa needs to “manage and measure water use, and we need to make it compulsory. We have been waiting for those regulations for years".
Passing legislation takes time and we have to adopt solutions in the interim that contribute towards mitigating the crisis and, therefore, in the absence of such regulations Smart Meter Technology and solutions have a pivotal role to play. Smart metering can be defined as technology that collects intelligent data at the metering point. It enables water authorities and municipalities to more effectively and efficiently oversee and manage the delivery as well as the usage of resources.
It also allows them to provide advanced knowledge of water usage to their customers and, in so doing, to build in incentive tariffs where possible. The end-users thus benefit in that they are ensured data integrity while also being able to monitor and manage their own water use smartly and at the palm of their hand.
Water management is at the core of sustainable development. Investing in smart and innovative water metering programmes and technologies would demonstrate commitment to educating consumers about their water consumption as well as inspiring changes in their behaviour while, at the same time, keeping water costs affordable. It is advisable that municipalities take a step towards adapting to new technologies in order to ensure sustainable delivery of this critical resource and service to not only the farmers but also to municipalities, industries, retail users and domestic consumers.
Today, smart metering technologies can make it possible for municipalities to achieve a lot more than just collecting revenue. Using Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) and advanced functionalities can help them to significantly improve the quality of service, increase their cost-efficiency associated with water provision and, most importantly, conserve the national resource by detecting and stopping leaks early. In concurence, the Chairman of the 2030 Water Resources Group (and former CEO of the Nestle Group), Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, says that if you want to save water then you must measure its consumption. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” he says.
South Africa is the 30th driest country worldwide so, for us, water is a critical element for ensuring sustainable socio-economic development in addition to the eradication of poverty. It should thus be at the core of our economy in the context of sustainable development and eradicating poverty.