Like many Johannesburg residents, Naleni Erasmus woke up on Friday morning, expecting water in her taps.

After 58 hours without water, Erasmus, who lives in Radiokop, Roodepoort, was looking forward to a shower, but nothing happened when she turned on the tap.

Rand Water’s 58-hour maintenance shutdown, which affected about 140 areas in the city, got under way at 7pm on Tuesday and ended at 5am on Friday.

The bulk water supplier said it had been “successfully completed” and that it is now filling up the system, which will take time to fully recover.

But Erasmus’s taps were still dry. “We can’t cook because there is no water. The dishes are piling up. It’s affecting our washing, which is also piling up. All the laundromats are closed and the water shops are closed due to low stock and the shelves are now being emptied.

“It’s affecting us financially because now we have to buy water,” she said, adding that the water outage had affected the cleanliness of her home, “because we can’t flush the toilets.”

The purpose of the shutdown was to complete a tie-in with a new pipeline, install isolation valves and upgrade Rand Water’s Eikenhof pump station, replace multiple valves at the Vereeniging water treatment plant, Eikenhof booster pumping station and Zuikerbosch water treatment plant. The last part of the project comprised work on electrical boards at the Lethabo pumping station.

Some systems could take a week to fully recover, said Rand Water spokesperson Makenosi Maroo. “Some areas are beginning to get water. Roodepoort and Randburg, I know those two areas are struggling, but the reservoirs are picking up slowly.”

She said reservoirs, especially in the high lying areas, would take longer to fill. “As soon as we fill the reservoirs, the low-lying areas take the water immediately so it’s taking longer for us to fill up the reservoirs.”

According to Johannesburg Water, systems are “gradually recovering”, particularly in Rosebank, Dunkeld West, Oakdene, Kenilworth, and parts of Soweto. The utility said that because this was one of the biggest planned maintenance shutdowns, there were “challenges experienced as expected of operations of this magnitude”.

“Among the major issues, which affected Johannesburg Water systems, was that the Zwartkopjes repairs, which were supposed to take 24 hours, were only completed at 1am on Thursday as opposed to 7pm on Wednesday.”

It said there was no continuous pumping of the 24% of water at the Eikenhof booster station that was supposed to take place throughout the shutdown. “There was no pumping on Wednesday night, resulting in Soweto and Lenasia systems being critically low to empty. By Thursday, the Eikenhof system was empty.”

Johannesburg Water said it “did not get the 300 megalitres of extra water” pumping into its systems as promised by the bulk supplier.

Maroo said when Rand Water started communicating the planned maintenance, it was clear about its duration.

“People just need water and I don’t think we need to be blaming each other. We did fill up the reservoirs so that when we do maintenance, there’s still water in those reservoirs, and we did request the municipalities to supply water tankers,” she said. “Some areas are only struggling with water, starting from today. We have done what we promised to do as Rand Water and we communicated.”

Johannesburg Water said full recovery will take five to 14 days. Water is not like electricity. “When power comes back after a power failure, one can hit a switch and the light comes back almost immediately. Water, on the other hand, is supplied through a long series of pipelines. If a reservoir goes low or empty, as the majority of them did during the shutdown, it sometimes takes days and even weeks to recover that storage.”

It said the Commando system (Hursthill, Brixton, and Crosby), a “historically problematic system”, will take longer to improve. As the recovery of systems takes place, Johannesburg Water will continue providing alternative water supply to areas that are still struggling, particularly in the Johannesburg city centre as well as hospitals and clinics.

Technical teams will reroute water tankers from areas showing improvement to those that are not receiving water, it said. It urged customers to use water sparingly, only for drinking and cooking, and hygiene purposes. “Please refrain from watering your gardens, filling up swimming pools, and using hose pipes to wash cars.”