Advice and Opinion

Property development and the future of water self-reliance in SA

South Africans are veterans of small-scale, self-sustaining interventions when it comes to being partially reliant on water supply.

Mannie Ramos Jnr, COO of Abeco, which offers water storage solutions, says that with an estimated 61% of total freshwater going to agriculture, followed by 27% going to municipal and domestic use, we need to start implementing self-reliant water practices on a larger scale.


With South Africa ranked as the 30th driest country in the world, it is no longer a question of being able to blindly rely on government to supply water. However, the good news is that there are no longer any technological boundaries to achieving at least partial self-sustainability.

Agriculture should be held accountable for investigating ways to recycle wastewater onsite with technologies, such as solar desalination, extremely promising. Essentially, using a heated pipeline, a solar still is powered that desalinated the water by distilling it. The water becomes steam, purifying it from minerals and once it returns to its liquid state, it is ready for use as clean water.

The technology can also be used to treat runoff, groundwater, and even industrial process water and it is estimated to be able to make 295 kiloliters per day from water that would be going down the drain.

Storing water in water banks for continuity is important for livestock farmers where a great deal of processing is done onsite”, says Ramos. “Water security for chickens, especially laying hens, is vital, as they are highly susceptible to any form of disturbance and stop laying for up to two weeks because of a single disruptive incident in water supply”.

45% of available food supply grown with water in South Africa ends up as waste. Just as we saw public education on the carbon footprint of how our food, influencing consumption patterns, we must educate consumers on the water footprint of the food they buy too.  

A large part of becoming water sensitive is understanding that the products we consume have a water cost. The clothing industry, for example, has outsourced much of its water-heavy manufacturing processes to countries where no legislation exists to protect water supply from dyes and other chemicals. By supporting these companies, who have eliminated water from their manufacturing processes, we can actively partake in ethical purchasing practices.

Property development

Ramos adds, “When building new eco-estates or renovating large sites, water systems should be as closed-circuited as possible for the long term. This means that any water collected and used on the property should make its way through various systems to enrich life onsite and to produce as little waste as possible”.

Developers should be looking at connecting each property to closed-circuit non-potable water storage tanks which provides water for most residential uses. These systems can then be connected to grey and black water systems for irrigation of the estates’ landscaping and non-residential water needs.

It is also essential to build with sustainability in mind and these additional costs can be recouped relatively quickly. Unfortunately, when developers attempt to avoid investment in self-sustaining systems, they end up having to upgrade during droughts and this expense can easily become overwhelming and while interventions such as low flow toilets and tap aerators are a start, they are simply not enough.

As a developer, investing in self-sustaining measures also helps to manage your risk as you can guarantee future residents water continuity and charge accordingly as you are not tapping into unsustainable public water infrastructure. For example, any new office block being built can install only low flow toilets and sinks that connect to a greywater system. Any non-potable water can be drawn from large scale storage tanks on-site set to be filled by rainwater and toped up by the municipal grid if necessary.

The water technology available is advanced, offering incredible efficiency of the desalination plants in Israel to large scale water tanks. Even architecture is increasingly being designed to maximize rainwater harvesting we have already made a start on this mammoth shift.

As a country that has privatized much of its medical, educational and safety sectors to meet increasing demands – water is simply next. If we are to reduce, harvest, store and recycle enough water to be self-sustained is to go for a multifaceted decentralized approach. This means that interventions can be implemented on many levels.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Property Wheel.