Banking on bulk infrastructure | Infrastructure news

Bulk infrastructure is now part of the targets and actions for Vision 2030, which are the guiding principles of the NWRS2, Lerato Mokoena, programme manager: Regional Bulk Infrastructure Programme at the DWA, tells Chantelle van Schalkwyk.

The focus on the roll-out of bulk raw water infrastructure developments has changed significantly in the new National Water Resource Strategy 2 (NWRS2). “Significant emphasis is placed on the principles of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) in the NWRS2. As part of IWRM, bulk infrastructure is highlighted and the strategy also gives considerable emphasis on the establishment of regional water utilities whose main function is bulk infrastructure,” says Mokoena.

This needs to be viewed in conjunction with the fact that all regions have significant bulk infrastructure needs, but for different drivers or reasons according to their specific circumstances, according to Mokoena. “In the Western Cape and Northern Cape, for example, the key driver of bulk infrastructure is water scarcity. In Limpopo, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, the key driver is to enable the provision of services to households with backlogs in services. Considering all the drivers, the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) estimates that the provinces with the largest water services bulk infrastructure needs are the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Limpopo.”

Moekena adds that the roll-out of bulk infrastructure projects are specifically addressed in the NWRS2, referring to Annexure A: “Perspectives per Water Management area”, which highlights the specific requirements of bulk infrastructure in more detail, whereas in the past the NWRS mainly focused on the water resources for each water management area.

However, she notes that the roll-out of all new bulk projects required is not described in all areas because not only would describing the bulk infrastructure needs in the NWRS2 make the document far too big, “there is still outstanding information on the number of potential options with regards to bulk infrastructure requirements”.

Providing clarity

In an effort to provide clarity on a broad and expansive topic, Mokoena notes that the Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant (RBIG) is not limited to bulk raw water infrastructure and includes bulk infrastructure for the provision of water services. This includes small water resources (i.e. small dams), bulk raw water, bulk potable water and effluent sanitation infrastructure. “RBIG, however, does not fund bulk projects for metros and focuses on bulk projects in all the other municipalities,” says Mokoena.

That being said, the importance of rolling out of bulk raw water infrastructure developments in order to meet delivery goals cannot be over-emphasised.Bulk infrastructure is often quoted as the key reason for not meeting delivery goals for water services. Bulk infrastructure, however, does not directly address service delivery, but enables the provision of services by providing water resources and/or connecting the water resources with the reticulation infrastructure. To answer the question directly, bulk water is essential to meeting delivery goals,” she says.

The influence is two-fold as well, addressing issues of sustainability at the same time – essentially bulk infrastructure is the key to ensuring the sustainability of water supply. “Through bulk infrastructure, water resources are augmented to meet increasing water demands and to compact the effects of climate changes such as drought. Some of the RBIG projects funded include desalination plants (the Clanwilliam/Lambertsbaai project in the Western Cape, for example) and an effluent recycling plant (George in the Western Cape), the development of small dams (LudekeDam in Greater Mbizanain the Eastern Cape) and the development of boreholes.

“The RBIG projects have to be directly linked to the water resources planning and strategy as documented in the water resource reconciliation strategies and all town studies,” explains Mokoena.

Planning prioritised

Planning, specifically integrated development planning and decision making, thus becomes critical in the roll-out of these and other projects of a similar nature. “Integrated planning and decision making is essential on three key levels.”

The first level, according to Mokoena, is theintegration and alignment of the design of the infrastructure throughout the water value chain starting from water resources, bulk infrastructure water reticulation, effluent services, bulk effluent systems and wastewater treatment. “The misalignment of the design of each of these components can lead to significant inefficiencies and can negatively impact on service delivery as well as the environment.”

She adds that the second aspect is the planning of the roll-out of these projects and the third is the actual implementation or construction of the projects. Although the timing of the planning of each component may be adequately aligned, often the problem comes in the execution of the various different projects.“Financial constraints or problems and challenges with procurement or the construction can lead to one project been delayed by months and even years while the other project of another component could be completed on schedule.

“The misalignment of timing of construction can lead to infrastructure not been commissioned for lengthy periods of time after they are completed or the underutilisation of such infrastructure. The consequences of such misalignment can have significant financial costs whereby the condition of such infrastructure can deteriorate very fast if not operated and maintained.” Mokoena adds that unfortunately there have been a few examples of such misalignment in the past, “but the DWA is placing considerable effort in minimising such incidents from reoccurring in the future by holding regular planning meetings with all stakeholders and industry role players, particularly the municipalities.”

Conquering challenges

According to Mokoena there are a number of key challenges with the RBIG that the department is facing; however, the DWA has strategies, process and programmes in place to ultimately overcome them.

The first challenge is the long procurement and design process of projects. In this regard, the DWA is increasing its own capacity and direct involvement in the implementation of projects and will also be making more use of water boards.“The DWA has also developed ‘term contracts’ for various contract and services, which will avoid additional procurement processes by municipalities and can be used by other government institutions.”

With regards to the limited institutional capacity of municipalities, which also has proven challenging in the roll out of similar projects in the past, Mokoena notes that the DWA has taken a decision not to allow the implementation of any RBIG projects by a municipality that is deemed to have a poor track record and limited institutional capacity.

An added challenge that is often not addressed in the mainstream media is expectations and planning/design parameters of projects that make service delivery unaffordable. “The DWA is becoming a lot more stringent in planning studies before it approves the funding of projects, placing more emphasis on the sustainability of both the funding and the projects themselves. There is also a need to develop a rural water supply policy that redefines water supply objectives and addresses the many challenges that are specific to rural water supply,” she says.

Challenging contractors

A well-documented challenge faced in the roll-out of these mostly large-scale projects is that of non-performing contractors. According to Mokoena, a number of often weak or inexperienced contractors have been appointed in the past for one of three main reasons:

  1. in order to support emerging contractors
  2. due to political interference


“There is no easy solution to this problem because it may interfere with the legal rights of municipalities to follow their own procurement procedures,” says Mokoena. However, she notes that the proposals to mitigate this challenge include ensuring more detailed and appropriate tender documents or after governance and monitoring of financial regulations with regards to procurement process should be intensified.

Community engagement essential

A key supplementary objective of the RBIG is to create job opportunities. One of the principles of RBIG projects is to use labour-intensive methods where possible and to hire and train local labour. The principles of Expanded Public Works Programme are promoted and are a condition for funding.

According to Mokoena, although most of the jobs created are temporary and only last for the duration of construction, the benefits by engaging the local communities are as follows:

  • training of unskilled labour
  • providing workers with work experience at a number of levels from highly technical jobs to manual labour
  • temporary employment for the duration of construction
  • creation of permanent jobs related to the operation and maintenance of the infrastructure
  • creation of permanent jobs, from job offers by the contracting companies

She adds that, as with any infrastructure project developed for services within municipalities, projects have to be part of the Integrated Development Plan (IDP). “The RBIG projects are no exception and funding is not permissible unless a project is included in the IDP and the Water Services Development Plan. The IDP has to go through a comprehensive community consultation process, which includes RBIG projects.”

Local perspective

An entrenched local perspective on all infrastructure projects related to service delivery is key, according to Mokoena, in order to ensure a balance between expectations, needs and affordability. “Without local perspective and consultation, however, infrastructure designed to provide a certain level of service may not be acceptable and rejected. The converse is also true that providing infrastructure that meets the requirements and wishes of the public may not be affordable and too expensive to maintain after it is completed.”

She adds that another key issue is to make communities aware of the significance of infrastructure in order to minimise vandalism and theft. “Experience has taught us that the more involved and aware a community is, the less the likelihood of vandalism and theft.”

Private sector participation

Although the role of the private sector is primarily in the design and construction of these projects, as both consultants and contractors are appointed as part of a procurement process by either the benefiting municipalities, the implementing agents appointed by the DWA or by the DWA itself, Mokoena notes that the role of the private sector is essential “as there is limited capacity within government structures to design or manage the construction of such projects. The benefit of using the private sector is to acquire expertise, skills and capacity.”

The private sector has also been engaged as funding partners in a number of projects where they will directly benefit from the services provided by such projects, although such funding partners are mainly mines or large industrial users.

“The benefit gained from the private sector in such instances will be to enable and facilitate the development of infrastructure that will meet the demand for economic activity and facilitate further economic development,” she concludes.

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