Load shedding is not just about the inconvenience of being without lights or television and the means to cook a meal, it negatively impacts our ability to earn a living, seek reliable healthcare, have confidence in the cold chain through which most of our food is moved, and – as recent news reports highlight – trust the quality of the water in our taps.The City of Cape Town has warned of water supply shortages related to load shedding while the Breede Valley Municipality urged residents to boil water as electricity outages hit its water and waste-water treatment plants hard. Johannesburg Water has said that many of its customers in higher-lying areas experienced low pressure to no water during load shedding and asked those in lower-lying areas to use water sparingly to assist with the recovery of the affected infrastructure. Similarly, the City of Tshwane and uMgungundlovu District Municipality in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands have explained that their reservoirs rely on a continuous flow to maintain levels and be prepared for outages. That continuous flow relies on the pump stations running to move the water and the pump stations rely on Eskom’s grid to provide the power. Exacerbating water quality challenges in KwaZulu-Natal are the floods in April 2022. These damaged eight sewerage treatment plants and resulted in millions of litres of untreated sewage spilling into the beaches, rivers, harbours and ocean in and around Durban. Only some of the infrastructure has been repaired, and Durban’s waters are still contaminated. “The lack of water in our taps and questionable quality of what water there is will see more and more South Africans turning to bottled water for drinking and cooking,” said South African National Bottled Water Association (SANBWA) CEO, Charlotte Metcalf.
“While this is good news for the industry as a whole, for an organisation like SANBWA whose members comply with a stringent standard that benchmarks favourably against others found globally, it also rings alarm bells.“This is because the growth will likely attract many new entrants into the market, but not all of these will comply with the strict standards required the FC&D Act, the legislation that regulates all enterprises in South Africa packaging water for sale to the public. “In addition, fly-by-night operators think nothing of bottling waters from unsuitable sources under unsanitary conditions and into packaging that might not even be sterile.” “One way consumers can protect themselves is to look for the SANBWA logo on a bottle of water. This guarantees that the product is genuine natural mineral or spring water, and that the source is sustainable, she said. Metcalf suggested you take the following measures if you suspect load shedding is negatively impacting your water supply:
- Boil the water from your tap and allow it to cool before using it to drink and wash salad ingredients.
- If you opt to make use of a home filtration system make certain that you select one that delivers what the brochure or website promises as recent research has highlighted that not all systems are created equal nor live up to their marketing messages.
- Only purchase bottled water featuring the SANBWA logo on the bottle because that logo guarantees that the water in that bottle comes from uncontaminated sources and that the bottling facility is hygienic and operated according to legislation and good manufacturing practices.
- Avoid buying water from retailers who fill new containers in-store – this is an illegal practise as the legal requirements to bottle a food product cannot be adhered to. They are mostly filling from a municipal source thus using the limited available water during loadshedding.
- Refuse the restaurant’s offer of water in a jug or its own ‘bottled water’. These bottles are usually filled using a countertop filling system connected to the municipal source, which may or may not be contaminated. Further, there is no guarantee the bottles and the ‘Grolsch’ cap they are typically closed with have been properly cleaned and sanitised before being filled. The moment water is pre-filled it needs to conform with packaged water legislation. In the restaurant filling set-up this is not possible.