Jo’burg water: as good as bottled

22 January 2002

Johannesburgers drink water of world-class standards. The quality of the water supplied by the city’s supplier, Rand Water, is measured against international standards, and easily meets them.

Karl Lubout, manager of water quality marketing at Rand Water, says: “We have world-class water, and the main reason is that our water comes from high up in the Vaal River catchment area, which means that the water is unpolluted and clean.”

To emphasise the purity of the water, the board has come up with a tongue-in-cheek marketing gimmick: plastic 500ml bottles imitating the well-known Valpre mineral water bottles, but labelled, in classic Valpre blue: “Rand Water – World-Class Water since 1903 – for quality water refill at your tap”.

Lubout disagrees with those who think it is healthier to drink bottled water. “In tests people cannot distinguish between bottled water and tap water – and there is no health benefit to drinking bottled water,” he says.

In fact, some bottled mineral water has a mineral content that is too high, he says, whereas spring water is usually very close to tap water in its mineral content.

It is possible to purify polluted water, but the deciding factor is cost. “Most countries have the technology to treat water, but the cost is often prohibitive, especially when you consider that less than 1% of the purified water is used as drinking water,” says Lubout. Most of the water is used for bathing, watering the garden and washing the car.

Rand Water produces some 3 000 million litres of water a day, equivalent to filling a 60 000 litre swimming pool. The daily requirement for each person is two litres.

Rand Water supplies five provinces – Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West – or some 18 000 square kilometres. Around 60% of industry in South Africa is supplied by Rand Water.

Johannesburgers do not drink treated water. The natural minerals are regulated to keep within limits set by the United Nations. Sewerage that is treated is usually released into the local rivers, at a standard that is close to the quality of the water in the river.

Johannesburg’s water has natural fluoride of 0.2 millilitres per litre, but recent legislation requires water boards to add 0.7 millilitres per litre of fluoride to the country’s water.

Lubout questions whether water is the right vehicle to get fluoride to people. “Salt, maize meal and milk can be fluoridated. I think at those levels we should be concerned about the impact of the fluoride on the environment.” Fluoride in excess can become toxic.

Johannesburg’s water comes from the Vaal Dam, with 1% being taken every seven days, which is 52% a year or half the dam’s volume. This means that at its present level, the Dam has sufficient water for two years. Sterkfontein Dam also supplies Johannesburg, and it too has two years’ supply.

Lubout says that the growth in water demand has flattened over the last few years, based on population growth. At present, Rand Water is easily coping with water demand, with the correct technology and expertise in place.

Summer is usually the season when cholera rears its head, but this won’t happen in the city as all of urbanised Johannesburg has access to tapped water.

So, cheers to tapped water.

Source: City of Johannesburg web site