Mike Baillie
Mike Baillie

Eskom crippling our water resources

It’s a simple truth: water is fundamental to life, we can’t live without it. The problem, though, is that water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource; one South Africa is running short of.

By 2030 it’s expected that our demand for water will outstrip what’s available by a staggering 17%. Already more than 98% of our water has been allocated to different water users [1] – and yet our economy and population continues to grow.

Water prices are set to climb, climate change will surely impact on rain distribution, and competition for dwindling water resources is likely to escalate, possibly leading to conflict. We are already seeing water-related service-delivery protests around the country [2], and today almost a million households still have no access to the minimum 25 litres of water a day [3].

Sure, we’ve faced water shortages and droughts in the past; water scarcity is nothing new for South Africa. As it is, this country has rainfall levels far below the global average. But as climate change takes hold, and South Africa continues to grow, the water challenge we face will be measured on a completely new scale.

Greenpeace Africa has just launched a report that reveals Eskom’s role in the depletion of our water resources, and it’s directly tied to coal-fired electricity. 93% of our electricity is generated from burning coal, which creates significant social, economic and environmental risks – and now the severe implications for our water resources are also much clearer.

If you crunch the numbers, Eskom’s water use works out to 10 000 litres a second – even Eskom’s so-called “water-efficient” coal plants will use 2.9 million litres an hour.

If on top of those staggering amounts of water, one includes the water footprint of coal mining, then the amount of water being used in coal-fired electricity generation is numbing. We are quite literally burning our rivers to power our homes.

What’s important here is that this water use is linked to coal power in particular; it’s not inherent to electricity production in general. Shift away from coal power, and we save water – start moving to renewable energy and we’ll keep the lights on, generate new jobs and keep the water running.

In 2011, Greenpeace published a study that attempted to establish the full costs of Eskom’s Kusile coal-fired power plant. When building something like Kusile, there are the plant’s official costs, and then there are a number of very real, significant, costs that are just left off the balance sheet – water pollution, human health impacts and carbon emissions, for example. The report found that these costs add up to between R31 billion and R60 billion a year – and a whopping 70% of those costs were water-related.

The point is that economists, Eskom, and our government keep telling us that coal power is the cheapest way to power our country. But coal is anything but cheap, particularly when you take into account its hidden costs, water being one of the most important.

Talking about water isn’t “just” an environmental issue, it’s about social justice, food security and basic human rights. Consider, for example, that the amount of water Eskom currently uses in one day, is enough water to grow a million kilograms of maize [4].

If our government is serious about development and providing for all South Africans, then it can’t simply trade off electricity generation against so many other development issues – especially when there are other viable ways to generate electricity that don’t force us to make impossible trade-offs.

There are real alternatives to coal power, but there are no alternatives to water.


This blog was written with the very kind help of Melita Steele, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Africa.

[1] Turton, A. 2008. CSIR Keynote address: Three Strategic Water Quality Challenges that Decision-Makers Need to Know About and How the CSIR Should Respond. CSIR Report No. CSIR/NRE/WR/EXP/2008/0160/A. Available online: http://www.environment.co.za/documents/water/KeynoteAddressCSIR2008.pdf.

[2] Bhagwan, J. 2012. Press Release: Water scarcity – an unresolved issue in many parts of the country leads to protests over service delivery. Water Research Commission. Available online: http://www.wrc.org.za/News/Pages/Waterscarcity%E2%80%93anunresolvedissueinmanypartsofthecountryleadstoprotestsoverservicedelivery.aspx.

[3] Molewa, E. 2012a. Speech by the Honourable Edna Molewa, Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs on the occasion of the Budget Vote for Water Affairs, Parliament: “Water is life – Respect it, Conserve it, Enjoy it’. Available online: http://www.info.gov.za/speech/DynamicAction?pageid=461&sid=27434&tid=68254.

[4] Maize requires 900 litres of water per kilogram. Eskom’s water use per day = 865 753 424 litres.
865 753 424/900 = 961,948 kg of maize

 

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  • 58 Responses to “Eskom crippling our water resources”

    1. Both American Presidential Candidates are wrong on “making America energy self sufficient” which they have been gabbling about since the 1970s anyhow. We,of course, already had Sasol – Once Upon a Time!

      They can’t use American Oil without imposing protectionist anti free trade measures, which they have also been gabbling about supporting for decades because it is sold on the international market.

      But Solar and Wind also have their problem. What they need is independent scientists and technicians, suppressed for decades by the Multi-Nationals, to allow technology, suppressed for decades, to catch up.

      October 29, 2012 at 7:57 pm
    2. Juju Esq. #

      Wind power and solar power from new power plants in Europe is significantly cheaper than electricity from fossil fuel or nuclear power plants when you factor in health and environmental damage, according to a new report.
      Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1oLyI)
      Read more at http://cleantechnica.com/2012/09/30/the-true-cost-of-electricity-calculated/#A4ve2ikD7yId2wAk.99

      >>

      October 30, 2012 at 10:14 am
    3. Juju Esq. #

      Another problem with fossil fuels is the old fossils who promote it despite evidence to the contrary.

      October 30, 2012 at 10:16 am
    4. The old fossils have the sense that the young twerps don’t have – they know that fossil fuels are cheap, SA has a 300 year supply, they are not controlled by Opec or Oil Company monopolies, and that the carbons emmission scaremorgers serve vested interests.

      They also know that the world has always had periods of climate change since the beginning of time, and that one volcanic eruption can put more carbon emmissions into the atmosphere of the world than man has done through the whole period of industrialisation.

      October 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm
    5. Juju Esq. #

      Obviously Alzheimer’s or dementia setting in.

      October 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm
    6. Not Senile Young Twerp #

      UPDATED: Stop CNN from Greenwashing Fossil Fuels, and Media Bias Worsening Extreme Weather Like Sandy

      By ClimateArk.org, a project of Ecological Internet
      October 30, 2012

      Given the abrupt climate change enhanced tragedy playing out on America’s east coast, the alert regarding fossil fuel media bias by CNN has been updated.

      TAKE ACTION to protest CNN’s complicity in abrupt climate change, Presidential climate silence, and not properly attributing Hurricane Sandy to climate change:

      http://www.climateark.org/shared/alerts/sendsm.aspx?id=CNN_coal_network

      CNN has become increasingly indebted to fossil fuel advertising, and greenwashes abrupt climate change as a reult. CNN’s coverage of Frankenstorm Sandy continues to virtually ignore abrupt climate change, global ecosystem collapse, and the need for sustainable development. CNN coal funding in particular has resulted in infrequent and biased coverage of ecological issues, and has abetted US Presidential candidates’ silence on climate change. CNN must indicate how they will change their business model to allow improved, propaganda free, and increased coverage of the huge amount of daily news regarding our fossil fuel addiction; North America’s tar sands, coal and fracking ecocide; and the many looming global ecological emergencies.

      TAKE ACTION!
      http://www.climateark.org/shared/alerts/sendsm.aspx?id=CNN_coal_network

      .

      October 31, 2012 at 8:44 am
    7. Momma Cyndi #

      Not Senile Young Twerp #

      So what caused the hurricane in 1935 to be stronger?
      Or the typhoon in 1882 to be so deadly?

      You see, that is my problem with the whole argument. Yes, there is no doubt that man’s activities are not doing the planet any good and there is no doubt that we need to be kinder to the earth. The problem is that everything is now put down to the latest pet paranoia.

      Volcanoes put more “greenhouse gasses’ into the atmosphere than cows or industry does. Floods, hurricanes and droughts have been happening since the first slug decided to opt for dry land. To put every single thing down to climate change just makes everyone disbelieve the whole concept.

      (what is with the name changes? do you get banned?)

      October 31, 2012 at 11:32 am
    8. Nuclear Power Scientists also try to push their own agendas. I heard such a Nasa Scientist in a debate on Aljezeera. He actually said “we know that seas have not risen for 10,000 years”. Actually it was the Romans, who were great engineers, who started to drain and canal the British Fens which were flooding with seawater and that was 2000 years ago.

      And I assure you the Venetians did not build all those fancy palaces in Venice knowing they would flood when the seas started to rise – which has certainly been in the last 10,000 years. And when did Holland start to build its dykes to keep out the sea?

      The most sensible scientist on the panel was a Dutch Scientist who said that even if we could stop global warming it would not stop flood, famine or hurricanes – those damages were caused by bad planning by man – blocking rivers, bad farming methods, building too close to the sea etc.

      October 31, 2012 at 5:21 pm

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