Saving water: What more needs to be said? | 14 September 2020
Turning the tap on and water flowing out of it has become such a feature of our daily lives that we now simply take it for granted.
It takes water disconnections or restrictions during the dry season for us to really value every drop. It is also around this time that we start asking ourselves what the authorities are doing to improve water security in the country. Yet, we are inundated with campaigns led by PUC reminding us that we need to save water and how life could simply not exist without it. There is however one challenge impacting water security which is less often spoken about. This is in reference to non-revenue water (NRW).
In 2019 PUC treated 14.13 million cubic metres of water for 33,306 customers. The water is treated at 15 water treatment plants across the country. Yet, 26% of the treated water is lost before it reaches the customers. This is considered as non-revenue water or water that is treated and PUC loses revenue from it as a result of leakages, faulty meters or theft. The percentage of water loss in the water network in 2010 was an alarming level of 55% and was considered as unsustainable.
However, PUC invested considerably in the last 9 years to address this problem and has brought this level down to a more manageable level of 26% by the end of 2019. This figure of 26% is comparable to the average for developing countries. According to the International Water Association (IWA), non-revenue water for developing countries stands at 30-45%. But, why do we need to talk about non-revenue water? In this day and age of persistent droughts, impacts from climate change, and increase in water demand due to rate of development, water loss is a critical issue. High percentages of water loss is a reason for concern but even small losses over time have significant impacts. The questions that therefore come to mind are, why does it persist? Who picks up the tab? and what actions are being taken by PUC to minimise water losses?
Most of the treated water lost in Seychelles happens as a result of leakages in pipes. The first potable water distribution system was installed over 60 years ago. Since then, 700 km of water pipelines have been placed, most of the works undertaken in the last 30 years. Buried deep beneath the ground, it takes a lot of engineering capacity, operations and maintenance efforts to keep this network going. An estimated 80% of the non-performing pipeline in the distribution system have been replaced with new pipes and fittings but they are still vulnerable to leakages because of damages, rust and other factors. However, over the past 20 years, PUC has also been using High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE) pipes and fittings in its water network since HDPE has excellent corrosion resistance. There are approximately 30km of non-performing pipeline remaining to be replaced. Nonetheless, in view of the location of the pipes, it makes it very challenging to accurately identify causes of water loss and put in place preventive measures.
We also have situations of broken or tampered meters or outright water theft contributing to the elevated NRW index. PUC has over the last decades worked intensively on reducing non-revenue water and managed to significantly decrease it. Some of the major efforts behind this achievement have been through the replacement of non-performing pipelines and defective meters as well as better managing the water pressure in the pipelines. PUC has also been setting up district metering areas to allow for a more rigorous monitoring of pipe leak detection, fraud investigation and basic meter replacement. This project has been completed on Mahé and is now extending to Praslin and La Digue.
In this never-ending drive for optimisation, in the last 4 years, PUC has invested a considerable amount in the modernisation in its water infrastructure. Addressing the NRW is problem has rippled benefits. The less water PUC needs to treat and pump out to the customers, the less energy we use. This also translates into less resources required to treat water. The less effort required to dig up the defective pipes, the less damage made to the roads. The less water that is lost, it also means more water available to meet the rising demand of customers.
Nowadays, PUC has a good overview of the water distribution network, the daily production and consumption of water and improved capacity to address non-revenue water than a decade ago. Moreover, each day new technologies and methods are being developed around the world to improve non-revenue water management. To hone in on the right strategy, PUC has had to analyse the impact of non-revenue water in Seychelles through the lens of our specific needs and what its budget permits. The bottom line, however, is that there can never be a perfect water distribution system with zero percent non-revenue water. This does not happen in any country. This is because there comes a point whereby the amount of investment required to address the problem becomes more than the actual losses incurred. Non-revenue water is also only one component of the equation to improve water security in Seychelles. Through awareness campaigns and other initiatives such as the loan facility for the purchase of water tanks, water efficiency and conservation remain at the very heart of PUC’s core activities. Irrespective of the challenge, the underlying conclusion is that the growing need for an efficient and sustainable water supply is one that still involves our collective efforts.
Contributed by PUC
Photo sources: PUC