Rand Water is a state-owned company whose mandate is to supply world-class quality bulk water services to Gauteng and its surrounding areas, including Mpumalanga, part of the North West and part of the Free State. Rand Water’s success is built on sharing in the pioneering spirit that led to the growth of the city of Johannesburg. It is the same spirit that has driven Rand Water’s growth in terms of infrastructure, quality of water and good governance, and created a reputation for supplying world-class quality water that is of international standards.
The Rand Water Foundation (NPC) is a non-profit company mandated to coordinate, administer, and manage Rand Water’s corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives and resources by undertaking community development projects in partnership with various stakeholders. The Foundation also promotes the delivery of water-related services to communities both within and outside Rand Water’s area of supply. By playing a strategic developmental role that may require decisions that are not always optimal from a commercial perspective, the Foundation plays an important role in the national development agenda. Projects implemented by the Foundation include environmental rehabilitation, water conservation education, and research.
Stewardship of natural resources for the benefit of all
Water is a basic resource that guarantees life. Through it, society can attain food security, sustain technological advancements, grow economies, and thrive. All facets of human life, including the day- to-day operations of corporates, rely on water. Food and beverage companies use water as a key ingredient in their products as well as to grow crops and feed livestock, mining companies need water for dust control and slurry when transporting product, while in the tech industry, companies require water cooling of data centres and manufacture of hardware.
The misalignment between supply and demand of fresh and potable water has placed at risk the delicate environmental, social, and financial ecosystems that are dependent on water supply to sustain society. Climate change, fluctuating rainfall patterns, loss of wetlands, population growth, and shifts in consumer behaviour exacerbate the problem. Through proactive individual and collective action, society can combat the water crisis. However, this requires dedicated efforts towards possible solutions and creates an urgent need for organisations such as Rand Water, whose mandate it is to deliver water, to manage and mitigate these negative impacts. Corporates can also play a role in mitigating the water crisis to limit not just their own risk but the risk of all stakeholders relying on the scarce water resources.
The Vaal Dam
The Vaal River system is an important natural resource and has supplied drinking water to parts of South Africa since 1903. In the past few decades, several dams have been built on the river to provide drinking water, to sustain economic activities, and for the production of electricity. These include the Vaal Dam, whose construction was completed in 1938. Today, the Vaal Dam remains the core source of raw water in the Vaal River system. By supporting industries such as mining and manufacturing as well as water supply for residential needs, the Vaal River system has contributed to economic development and to the growth of Johannesburg into a thriving metropolitan. The Vaal River system has also contributed to food security by supporting the production of crops and livestock for consumption both locally and in export markets.
In recent years, the dam has been affected by several challenges including increasing salinity, increase in total dissolved solids, and fish deaths. After scientific investigation, the fish deaths were attributed to pollution of the river by waste water. Other contributing factors include dumping of waste on the river banks, algae that is formed on the shores, and the occurrence of microbiological pollutants. Several directives have been issued by the Department of Water and Sanitation to municipalities in the catchment area, instructing them to improve the quality of their effluent discharge from waste water treatment works. The directive has not had the desired effect, prompting stakeholders such as the Rand Water Foundation, civil society, and communities located in areas surrounding the Vaal River system to launch an initiative to clean the Vaal Dam. The initiative was launched in 2020 at an initial cost of R500 000.
Environmental awareness and management
The Rejuvenation Community Trust NGO was appointed by the Rand Water Foundation to assist with water purification and ease the level of pollution by cleaning of the Vaal Dam in Metsimaholo local municipality. Key activities completed since the launch of the initiative in 2020 include waste removal and cutting of bushes. A total of 26 hectares was covered during the exercise. Further, waste containers were installed around the river banks to help control littering in the area. Sampling and research were conducted on the different types of algae found in the Vaal Dam to establish the root causes for algae growth and to propose solutions. This has resulted in the creation of 21 jobs for members of the local community.
Key lessons and highlights
Water and sanitation are imperative to the health and wellbeing of society
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of water and sanitation services in combating the spread of disease and facilitating the provision of quality healthcare. The washing of hands, among other precautionary measures, is critical to prevent the spread of the disease and for the general health and wellbeing of society. It is therefore important for corporates to partner with government, civil society and other key stakeholders, to invest in water infrastructure and protect the environment to ensure the health and wellbeing of society.
Proactive stakeholder engagement is key to success
Producing water that meets the highest health standards and distributing it far and wide is a costly exercise. The effort is complicated by forces beyond the control of Rand Water, including climate change, fluctuating rainfall patterns, and pollution.
This results in Rand Water having to spend much more time analysing the quality of water received from the Vaal River system and huge amounts of money purifying water before it reaches the taps of end users. To manage the challenges associated with bulk water supply in an increasingly complex and dynamic operating environment, Rand Water and its Foundation need to employ proactive stakeholder engagement and foster partnerships with like-minded peers to facilitate an exchange of key learnings and cross-sectoral collaboration.
Resource stewardship as a guiding principle
The responsible stewardship of resources is a guiding principle not only for Rand Water’s commercial activities but also in how the company invests in the communities it serves and engages with stakeholders. Stewardship is premised on the understanding that effective resource management should be shaped by both the needs of today, and those of future generations. Responsible stewardship also entails doing the right thing in the good times to build the strength and fortitude needed to protect and preserve natural resources for the future.
To achieve this, Rand Water implements practical initiatives infield, community-based awareness and education as well as in-house efforts to ensure continual improvement in the implementation of environmental management, horticultural management, environmental research, and water conservation initiatives.
International water cooperation
South Africa is part of the global village. This makes it imperative for Rand Water to cooperate and collaborate with its international peers. International engagement is guided by the National Development Plan, the country’s foreign policy, regional and continental commitments as well as the company’s own strategic imperatives. Rand Water has therefore continued to build relationships with relevant partners in the water and sanitation sector, through participation in relevant conferences, seminars and workshops, for the benefit of the business and the country.
RAND WATER FOUNDATION
522 Impala Road, Glenvista 2091
PO Box 1127, Johannesburg 2000
T 011 682 0192