Stainless steel has a crucial role to play in fixing SA’s water woes

Globally, as much as 35% of all treated water is lost to leaking piping systems with South African levels reaching as high as 60%. This has prompted a stainless steel test project to get underway in Paarl between sassda, local municipal authorities and South African manufacturers in search of the most environmental and economic solution for the country’s water-wise future.

Case studies show that 95% of treated water leaks occur in the small diameter service pipes connecting the distribution pipes to the users’ water meters. Currently, approximately 40% of Johannesburg’s treated water supply is nonrevenue water (NRW), equating to a loss of R1.1 billion per year, of this 73.3% is lost due to pipe leakage.

Sassda Western Cape Manager Michel Basson says this is because water pipes are currently made from, or replaced with, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), with a lifespan of 20 years, as opposed to stainless steel applications of at least 60 years. “In light of this, we currently have a test installation underway in a residential unit in Paarl where we are evaluating the installation of corrugated stainless steel tubes connected to the bulk supply line, which have been installed and covered in such a way that they can be easily removed for inspection.”

This pilot project is the initial stage of a planned joint undertaking with Drakenstein Municipality, which has been involved in large upgrades to infrastructure of water supply, sewage and roads with the current expansion of luxury estate homes along the Berg River. The initial stage has seen both dummy pipes and 316 stainless steel pipes, manufactured by INOX Systems, installed at Honey Dew Country Estate.

The potential for stainless steel water supply installations in the municipal area is potentially huge since it covers a large geographic area of populated land. Current infrastructure upgrades include the Berg River Boulevard extension which will act as an additional link for residential development from Helderberg and Stellenbosch to the N1 Paarl, Mbekweni and Wellington.

At this stage, INOX Systems is the main local manufacturer of the South African requirement of 0.3mm thick continuously corrugated piping which ensures the pipeline is strong enough to withstand both weight and road surface vibration. However, prominent members in the automotive exhaust systems industry also have the ability and capacity to produce big volumes of the tubes.

Sassda Executive Director John Tarboton comments; “Water loss on the scale we are experiencing, especially with the current water crises being experienced, has major economic and environmental implications for South Africa and other countries around the world. This year at the ISSF’s (International Stainless Steel Forum) annual meetings, the forum launched an initiative to promote the use of stainless steel water pipes. It presented an analysis of three case studies where stainless steel has been used for water pipes, drawing conclusive evidence that stainless steel is the best material of choice when considering environmental and economic considerations.”

The forum also revealed that as early as the 1970s, Tokyo started investigating a solution to its dwindling water supply. From 1980 to 2012 it replaced all service pipes with stainless steel pipes. In 1980, water losses stood at 17% and by 2012, this had been reduced to 2%. Seoul and Taipei soon followed Tokyo’s example and have since dramatically reduced their water losses with the use of corrugated stainless steel pipes.”

Tarboton continues; “Sassda is very much a part of these market developments in line with the strategy of the global ISSF projects where we have access to new applications and development-changing technology. We recently hosted a visit from international collaborators, including the International Molybdenum Association and the Nickel Institute, and together with current evaluations, we can offer solid South African evidence of the advantages of stainless steel durability and longevity over that of HDPE pipes, which are currently cracking and leaking.

“We are also working with Sasfin to look at ways of providing financing options for the installations of stainless steel service pipes funded by the savings made from the municipality through non-revenue water savings.”