Nica Richards
Premium Journalist
4 minute read
9 Jun 2021
11:05 am

Why Rand Water’s maintenance is a necessary evil 

Nica Richards

Unless having poop in your drinking water sounds like a good idea, understanding how dangerous incorrect plumbing can be and bearing with Rand Water's maintenance plans, is worthwhile.

Although most buildings replace plumbing systems when problems arise, many still make use of old, outdated plumbing systems, one of many challenges that have arisen during water utility Rand Water’s five-year maintenance plan. Picture: iStock

An incorrectly installed plumbing system in your home or business can mean the difference between living a healthy life or an illness prone one. 

Anything from poor design, using the wrong materials, outdated plumbing and inadequate maintenance can result in an array of health problems, most notably gastrointestinal. 

For example, deficiencies in roof storage tanks could allow faecal matter to enter your water, or could cross-contaminate drinking water and waste water, which causes microbiological contamination of drinking water. 

Old, dilapidated plumbing materials, pipes, fittings and coatings can even cause heavy metals such as lead to leach into your drinking water. 

An old plumbing system

An old pipe versus a replaced plumbing system. Picture: WISA

This not only affects those residing or working in a particular building, but can expose other consumers through contamination of localised water distribution systems. 

Five-year plan

Although most buildings replace plumbing systems when problems arise, many still make use of old, outdated plumbing systems, one of many challenges that have arisen during water utility Rand Water’s five-year maintenance plan.

The plan involves replacing faulty and ageing infrastructure with state-of-the-art plumbing technology. Unfortunately, this also means five years of intermittent water cuts which started in February this year. 

Rand Water’s distribution network involves more than 3,300km of pipelines, some of which date back to 1907. 

According to the utility, replacing the network will cost R4 billion. However stark this figure is, Rand Water supplies up to 10 million people in a 18,000 square kilometre service area, which includes 95% of Gauteng, as well as parts of the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga. 

Not all parts of Rand Water’s pipeline will be replaced, with the extent of the maintenance still to be determined. 

However, it needs to fulfil its mandate of providing drinking water that is SANS 241: 2015 compliant and is not corrosive to plumbing systems. 

Types of pipes found in plumbing systems 

Galvanised pipes 

Galvanising is the application of molten zinc to steel pipes to provide a corrosion-resistant coating. Corrosion is the slow deterioration of a material which leads to it leaching into drinking water. 

Galvanised pipes are still common in older homes and commercial buildings. 

Galvanised pipes and fittings in an old home

Galvanising is the application of molten zinc to steel pipes to provide a corrosion-resistant coating. Picture: iStock

Although reliable, many found were manufactured from zinc, which has high levels of lead. Exposure over time can result in this metal becoming poisonous. Iron can also leach into drinking water. 

Corrosion also makes water taste metallic and can discolour water, making it a brown, red or yellow colour. 

Galvanised pipes also cause problems for Rand Water, as water flow is eventually restricted due to blockages caused by mineral build-ups in the pipes. 

Lead pipes 

Some old homes and even service lines from water mains still use lead pipes. 

Although lead is usually not seen as something that can contaminate drinking water, as it is rare for water sources to contain lead, it can still leach into drinking water through corrosion or wearing away of materials that contain lead. 

Even soldering used to join copper pipes, brass and chrome-plated taps can result in lead leaching into drinking water. 

Soldering on lead and copper pipes

Soldering used to join copper pipes, brass and chrome-plated taps can result in lead leaching into drinking water. 

Rand Water warned that if drinking water taken from a tap has corrosion, it must be corrected as soon as possible, or consumers risk serious health complications. 

Copper pipes 

Newly installed copper pipes can be hazardous to consumers, as the pipes have not yet had time to build an insulation on the inside, which keeps copper from leaking into drinking water. 

This means that higher concentrations of copper are likely to be found in drinking water. 

Copper pipes in an attic

Consumers must never drink or cook with water that comes out of a hot tap. Picture: iStock

The insulation is built up when water stands idle in copper pipes. But this is not fool-proof – the longer water is stagnant, the more copper risks absorbing into drinking water. 

Luckily, all newly-installed copper pipes need is a good system flush before drinking water is used. This involves letting the cold water tap run for up to 60 seconds. To do this sustainably, put the flushed water in a bucket and use it to clean floors, carpets or to water plants. 

Those people who have copper pipes installed in their homes must never consume or cook with water drawn from the hot water tap. This is because hot water dissolves copper faster than cold water. This includes making baby formula. 

Information provided to The Citizen by Rand Water media relations manager Justice Mohale.