Dropping the Pressure – Water Savings


By implementing a pressure management installation in a poor area, the Emfuleni Local Municipality in Gauteng created some breathing space to fix leaks and implement other water demand management activities, such as community awareness programmes. The overall project has led to a tremendous reduction in water loss and the costs to build the initial system were recovered in just two months. The project has earned national and international awards, and similar projects are now being rolled out in other areas, including the Metsimaholo Municipality on the other side of the Vaal River, where the same funders are collaborating again.

Water distribution systems across South Africa are deteriorating due to lack of maintenance. While legislation prescribes free basic water up to 6kℓ per month for each property, a lack of clarity around payment has led to serious problems with service delivery. This is especially true of low-income areas where water infrastructure maintenance has been neglected for over 30 years in some cases, says Ronnie Mckenzie, managing director at Water Resource Planning and Conservation (WRP). His company was appointed by the Emfuleni Local Municipality to design and commission an advanced pressure management system in the Sebokeng and Evaton areas.

Phase 1 of the project, which took place from 2005-2010, was a five-year public private partnership (PPP) and resulted in what is understood to be one of the largest advanced pressure management installations in the world.

Water utility Metsi-a-Lekoa, which receives water from local bulk water provider Rand Water, manages the supply of potable water to the 450 000 residents of Sebokeng and Evaton. The areas are mainly low-income residential with about 70 000 household connections, each of which has individual water supply and waterborne sewage. The combination of low income coupled with high unemployment led to a deterioration of the internal plumbing fittings, causing massive leakage issues in the area. Only about 25% of consumers in Emfuleni are metered and billed based on actual consumption, while the remaining consumers are billed on a “deemed consumption” of 20kℓ per household per month.



The so-called minimum night flow measured in the area was around 2 800m3/hr – one of the highest rates recorded anywhere in the world. This amounted to nearly two Olympic-sized swimming pools of water every hour during a period when demand for water should be minimal. Most of the water loss was due to leakage, occurring mainly at residences, and causing an overload on the sewer network at the same time. Spillages of
raw sewage into local river courses were also common in the area.

PHASE 1: Water pressure management


“Since leakage is driven by water pressure, any reduction in pressure, even if only for a short period each day, will result in lower leakage and fewer burst pipes. If water pressures can be lowered during the off-peak periods, significant savings can often be achieved,” says Mckenzie. Phase 1 involved constructing a pressure management installation on the main supply pipeline into the two residential areas.

Phase 1 cost R10million to construct and operate over the five-year period, during which it achieved audited water savings of 50million m3. “These savings corresponded with over R150million in reduced water purchases by the local municipality from Rand Water. By simply reducing the water pressure during the off-peak periods, an average saving of almost 1000m3/hr was achieved,” Mckenzie explains.

WRP financed and managed the first phase of the project. After five years Emfuleni Municipality inherited the installation and paid WRP 15% of all savings achieved, based on its monthly Rand Water bill.



The direct savings achieved by the project exceeded all expectations, but after operating and managing the installation for two years, several other benefits became apparent. As a result of the project, the client gained a reprieve of at least 10 years on upgrading of the water supply and sanitation infrastructure. The reduced pressure in the area led to a significant reduction in the number of burst pipes, further prolonging the life of the existing infrastructure.
The project also identified bottlenecks and missing parts in the water system that were not evident before. In addition, it opened doors for the municipality to receive funding for other projects, including for the project’s second phase and other water demand management (WDM) interventions.

PHASE 2: Fixing the leaks


Phase 2 had two main objectives, namely to address the internal household leakage through basic and inexpensive plumbing repairs, and to increase community awareness and tackle the social aspects of water losses through a comprehensive education and awareness campaign over a two-year period.
The difference in the funding model in this phase was the agreement for the local municipality to reinvest any savings achieved in the first year of the project into the second year.



Phase 1 was constructed using labour-based practices to create more employment in the local communities. In Phase 2, the project team involved more than 145 people, 80% of whom were locals.

The team visited 103 088 households for both technical and social interventions. Close to 25 000 water- and sewer-related problems were identified, and approximately 100 000 tap washers and 150 000 toilet washers were replaced. The average cost per household for leak repairs was only R150.

Fifty-eight local plumbers were appointed, as well as four student technicians from the local University of Technology, who assisted with quality control and occupational health and safety. Schools in the area were assessed on the management of their water losses and workshops were held for some of the learners as part of the community awareness programme.

More than 50 public meetings were held to create buy-in from the local communities. A great example of community involvement is the artwork painted on the installation building.

The design of the painted chambers was part of a school competition where the pupil providing the winning design received a small prize, and so did the school concerned. “The installation, as a result, has not experienced any problems concerning vandalism or theft and is, in fact, protected by the community members,” Mckenzie says.



No technical intervention can be sustained without community support. Mckenzie says that finding an appropriate Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, which can be replicated, is proving difficult and it appears there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. “The best that can be achieved is to identify and properly audit successful case studies that can be used as a starting point for new projects, and in each case the model can be customised to address specific local conditions and problems,” he says.

One of the key problems to many WDM interventions, according to Mckenzie, is maintaining the initial savings after the project has been completed and the project team has been paid. In the case of the Sebokeng/Evaton PPP, the project team was responsible for all maintenance and operation for the full five-year period. The project team received payment in accordance with the savings generated. It was therefore essential that the project continued to operate properly for the full period or the financial implications for the project team would have been serious.

Mckenzie says this is one of a few WDM projects that has been accurately audited over the full five-year period of the PPP. He says it proves that such partnerships can be implemented involving relatively small projects and the savings achieved can be sustainable.



The long-term objective of many WDM projects is to ensure consumers take responsibility for water conservation and infrastructure. Water services are provided for consumers, who are the direct beneficiaries of the infrastructure and as such should play a role in reporting faults and directing municipal resources where they are required.

The project team also recognised the local community as a valuable asset in the development. Local knowledge can often help in terms of identifying problems before they lead to system failure.

Despite recognising the pitfalls at hand, they could not entirely be averted in Emfuleni. The government officials involved a few years ago have moved on and water savings have diminished. Yeyakhe Mdudlwa, customer care manager at Metsi-a-Lekoa, says the project has ended due to financial constraints experienced by the municipality. There are, however, other water demand management interventions being implemented that are complementing the leakage reduction project, he says.

By Femke van Zandvoort

The full article appears in Earthworks Magazine, Issue 34: Oct/Nov 2016, pp 118-126