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Controlled water use is pertinent

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Updated 2 hours 30 minutes ago Hygiene and sanitation company Ecowize, which services the food sector, emphasises the importance of food producers and manufacturers introducing strict control elements for water use, as the resource impacts directly on their operations.

Water and Environmental Affairs Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi said in June last year that South Africa could “dry out” by 2050, if no action was taken to conserve water.

It is, therefore, pertinent that the key role-players in South Africa’s corporate sector implement strict water-saving measures to help deal with the impending water deficit that is threatening food security and produce across the country, Ecowize tells Engineering News.

“It is crucial for food producers and manu- facturers to introduce elements of strict control by implementing water-saving disciplines, as water will always be a basic necessity. “Food producers and manufacturers will also be able to save significant amounts of water by providing staff with efficient water-saving training. “This will help develop their skills and knowledge so that they can identify the causes of water being wasted and ways to solve them,” says Ecowize MD Gareth Lloyd-Jones.

South Africa has a dual agriculture eco- nomy, with well-developed commercial farming and more subsistence-based production in the deep rural areas, states the Department of Environmental Affairs. About 1.3-million hectares of land is under irrigation and about 50% of the country’s water is used for agriculture.

Further, Lloyd-Jones adds that, to avoid the unscheduled use of water, food producers and manufacturers need to introduce strict elements of control that set aside specific times for the use of tools such as hoses. Also, farmers can implement water-saving incentives, such as performance-pay systems, which are driven by how well staff follow set water-saving disciplines.

As a company that also provides hygiene and sanitation services for the pharma-ceuticals and healthcare industries, Ecowize states that companies should introduce universal benchmarks to determine and set water allocations for particular jobs. Ecowize points out that this can be achieved through monitoring three important variables – the value, pressure and the temperature of water.

“These variables need to be balanced and measured regularly as this will help determine the overuse of water. For example, measuring fluctuating water pressures will indicate inconsistencies or leaks. “Conducting a thorough root-cause analy-sis will enable farmers to determine the cause of the problems and eliminate them from re-occurring,” Lloyd-Jones explains.

He notes that businesses that use water for daily activities, such as cleaning, need to realise the significance of the fact that South Africa has limited water reserves and take responsibility by making a concerted effort to prevent the wasting of water, which is often caused by pipe bursts, water leaks and unscheduled water use.

“Other simple and cost-effective water-saving disciplines include having a water recycling system in place, whereby used water is drained through a filtration process to remove all solids and then chemically treated to ensure it is suitable for use at plants. “This water can then be used to wash down areas such as driveways,” notes Lloyd-Jones.

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Govt’s infrastructure expansion plan for water supply, sanitation delayed – Sappma

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Updated 50 minutes ago
Government’s delivery of basic water supply and sanitation services to all South Africans by 2014 seems to be delayed, says the South African Plastic Pipes Manufacturers Association (Sappma).

The country’s plastic pipe industry has been preparing and is still waiting for the long-awaited, and promised, government expenditure on infrastructure expansion and renovation, Sappma tells Engineering News.

The Development Bank of Southern Africa’s (DBSA’s) ‘State of South Africa’s Economic Infrastructure: Opportunities and challenges 2012’ report highlights that R62-billion is required to tackle backlogs in reticulation infrastructure, including refurbishment, bulk infrastructure and treatment infrastructure. Internal bulk infrastructure requires the highest percentage of this allocation (36%), followed by reticulation (33%), refurbishment (18%) and wastewater treatment (13%).

The sanitation infrastructure investment required by South Africa is R73-billion, of which wastewater treatment works account for 26% and sanitation 47%. The sanitation refurbishment budget accounts for 11% of the budget and bulk sanitation infrastructure for 16%, the report points out.

“The plastic pipes industry is well developed and capable of handling much higher volumes of work than disclosed by government. This is evident in statistics, which show that the current plastic pipes activity level in South Africa is higher than a year ago, despite fierce competition and low gross margins. In terms of output sales, the industry records about R3-billion a year.

“However, growth has been between 1.5% and 2% of the gross domestic product in the past two years, which is lower compared with growth some years ago,” says Sappma chairperson Jan Venter.

Meanwhile, the DBSA’s report also highlights that several bulk water infrastructure developments are taking place in South Africa, notably the Olifants River Water Resources Development Project, which accounts for 52% of the R9.9-billion allocated to projects currently under way. The total funding required to implement the new mandated projects is estimated at R14.2-billion, of which 32% will be funded by development financial institutions and 18% by commercial banks. According to the budgeted capital expenditure, the bulk of expenditure will take place during the 2014/15 financial year.

Meanwhile, Venter adds that, owing to the plastics piping business being a strategic industry, hardware needs to be reliable for extended periods. Long-term product quality is fundamental and quality plastic pipe should be good for a minimum of 50 years according to industry standards, states Sappma.

Further, he points out that plastic pipe in South Africa is regulated by national standards that are in line with international best practice. This limits deviations and short cuts in terms of pipe design, performance and the mass of material used. The input cost to produce pipe is dominated by that of polymers, which can be more than 75% of the total cost. The international trend is, therefore, to reduce pipe-wall thicknesses by using less material.

“It is our vision to create absolute quality, trust and integrity throughout the value chain of the Southern African plastic pipes industry. To this end, Sappma continues to work closely with the South African Bureau of Standards in a joint effort to weed out inferior quality plastic piping systems.

“As big polymer manufacturers are being governed by these standards, they constantly seek to develop materials with higher design stresses. Production equipment and the outputs and efficiencies of pipe extruders, in particular, are also continuously being improved,” Venter highlights.

He says many local pipe manufacturers have maintained good business relationships with international companies, through which they acquire information to enhance their knowledge of the industry. “This will ensure that, once government is certain about the implementation of the infrastructural expan- sion and renovation plan, companies can offer services that will assist government in meeting the required mandate.”

Government Future Plans
The report also points out that over the country’s current Medium Term Strategic Framework, from 2009 to 2014, role-players in the water sector will continue to focus on meeting targets for the delivery of water supply services to ensure 100% access to water for South Africans. During this period, the management of South Africa’s scarce resources and support for the development of bulk water resources infrastructure for long-term sustainability will continue.

South Africa has about 4 718 dams, which include those owned by the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) and privately owned dams. The DWA owns about 305 dams, with a total capacity of 29.2-billion cubic metres, which account for 70% of the total dam capacity in the country. To reconcile the imbalances of water demand and supply between the water catchment management areas, the DWA has developed transfer schemes that deliver bulk water from areas of surplus to areas of deficit. Therefore, pipelines are an important factor in ensuring that government reaches its mandate, states the report.

“In the KwaZulu-Natal and North West provinces, the need for investment in water reticulation is the most urgent priority, while the need for investment in bulk infrastructure is a priority in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape provinces. In the Western Cape, bulk infrastructure and refurbishment are priorities,” it explains.

Regional bulk water services infrastructure includes raw water abstraction, treatment works, reservoirs and distribution pipelines to supply water in bulk across municipal borders and over vast distances. The water boards in the different provinces are responsible for the operation of most of this infrastructure. In 2007, the DWA commissioned a Regional Bulk Infrastructure Programme to improve economies of scale and fast- track the delivery of sustainable water services to local communities, especially in rural areas. The programme continues to be financed through the National Treasury’s Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant, states the report.

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Govt’s infrastructure expansion plan for water supply, sanitation delayed – Sappma
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Water treatment services include water plant design, construction

Durban-based multidisciplinary water-treatment specialist Water Purification Chemical & Plant (WPCP) offers a range of services that encompass the chemical aspects of drinking water treatment, the latest filtration technologies and the design of major water purification plants.

Included in these water-treatment services are the design and construction of drinking water plants, which are available in modular, skid-mounted and containerised designs.

WPCP MD Martin Overy says transforming raw surface water from dams and rivers into pristine, safe drinking water forms an important part of the com- pany’s business.

“The company, with a commitment to the highest quality standards, has made a significant investment in the latest equipment and ongoing research to ensure optimum efficiency and the total hygiene of every instal- lation. The water quality of these units conforms with South African national standards 241:2001 drinking water specifications,” he says.

WPCP’s modular drinking water plants are locally manufactured, using noncorrodible materials to ensure extended service life of the system. Flocculant mixing (velocity coefficients) is designed to suit the water quality of each installation.

Modular drinking water plants encompass an upflow sludge blanket which is manufactured to exact specifications from ultra- violet-stabilised reinforced polyester resin or coated mild steel. These modules are available in 6 m³/h and 15 m³/h units, with a 45° cone for efficient sludge removal. The upflow velocity is between 1.2 m/h and 1.5 m/h, with a retention period of about one hour. Modules with inclined tube settlers have a flow rate between 50 m³/h and 160 m³/h.

WPCP manufactures single- and/or dual-media filter units for the efficient separation of suspended and particulate solids. Advanced dual-filtration technology ensures highly efficient filtration capabilities – the high dirt storage capacity of hydroanthrazit and fine filter quality of silica sand combine to ensure high levels of water purity.

Package modules are available in capacities of 1.5 m³/h, 3.15 m³/h, 25 m³/h and 50 m³/h. Treatment plants are available in various capacities, from 1.5 m³/h to 600 m³/h.

Also in WPCP’s range of drinking water plants are skid-mounted units, which are suitable for applications that include small communities, farms and game ranches. These units have capacities between 1 000 ℓ/h and 3 000 ℓ/h and accommodate a range of water conditions, from low to high turbidity.

Skid-mounted units have been designed for easy portability. All equipment is secured to a rugged, portable, epoxy-coated steel skid.

Containerised drinking water plants, available in capacities from 6 m³/h to 24 m³/h, are also designed to handle all water turbidity conditions. Equipment is secured and housed in a newly designed robust 6 m shipping container, explains Overy.

WPCP offers a technical advisory service, as well as maintenance contracts to ensure optimum efficiency, total hygiene and extended service life of each drinking water system. Rental options with a chemical supply are also available.

The company further offers a full analytical service from its in-house laboratories and a full range of flocculants is manufactured at the WPCP factory in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal. The various forms of disinfection employed by the company include bromine/chlorine ‘bromochlor’ tablets using a tablet feeder, ozonation and hydrogen peroxide.

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Contractor moves to accelerate delivery of water-treatment capacity

Construction company Liviero reports that it is fast-tracking the implementation of parts of a R231-million contract at Rand Water’s Panfontein water treatment residue disposal site, near Vereeniging.

The expansion of the sludge disposal site and modifications to the supernatant pipeline began in August. But Liviero says the first delivery target needs to be accelerated because additional capacity is urgently required, as all the existing drying ponds are filled to capacity.

The company has committed to handing over ten ponds in September to assist with Rand Water’s Panfontein capacity requirements, explains Liviero CEO Neil Cloete.

Liviero’s project at Panfontein entails removing existing sludge and drainage pipes and installing new sludge pipes and water guns, as well as a new drainage system, including concrete channels and sand flumes. Associated steel sludge delivery pipelines, subsurface drains and fittings will also be installed.

In addition, the contractor will raise the pond walls by 4 m in 20 drying ponds. The ponds will be lined with 1.5 mm high-density polyethylene (HDPE) lining. The subsurface drains will drain into a 1 km trapezoidal concrete channel.

A total of one-million cubic metres of commercial filling sand was imported for the wall construction and 825 000 m2 of HDPE lining and geotextile will be installed, along with 19 km of steel sludge pipes and 68 km of subsoil drainage.

Between 500 t and 1 300 t of dry sludge is produced each day during Rand Water’s purification process. The dry sludge is removed from the sedimentation tanks containing thin slurry. The tanks contain 3% dry sludge.

The sludge is then pumped to Rand Water’s sludge disposal site, at Panfontein, where it is dosed with an organic flocculent in gravity thickening plants to aid the separation of the solids from the liquid. The thickened sludge is pumped onto drying beds, where it is dried through evaporation, and the clear supernatant fluid is drawn off and returned to the purification system.

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Consultants may solve management challenges

Appointing specialist water engineering consultants to oversee water infra- structure management could solve the challenges facing water infrastructure in South Africa, independent mining, water and environmental consultants SRK Consulting Durban office partner Murray Sim tells Engineering News.

He believes a new strategy needs to involve consultants in the management process, while still working within the frameworks of local municipalities’ water management.

“Potentially, a consultant could be appointed to manage a pollution-control structure on a contractual basis. If any information pertaining to the pollution-control structure is required, the consultant would supply the information. Basically, the consultant will take ownership of the structure for that specific contract period,” he says.
Sim says the consultant’s responsibilities would vary, depending on the client’s specific requirements. Some responsibilities could include developing an operational maintenance programme; removing litter, debris or oil from the water structure; implementing design modi- fications, such as pollution-control structures for future planning to improve the system; and informing the municipality about capital cost estimates and maintenance requirements.

Further, municipalities have a major shortage of low-flow gauging stations required for the calibration of various hydrological modelling packages.

“The majority of pollution-control structures are designed for low-flow conditions. Therefore, flow measurements can be incorporated into the operational maintenance programme and, depending on the sensitivity of the area, the addition of a water-quality sampling programme could be considered to facilitate future baseline modelling,” explains Sim.
He says, depending on the success of the programme, it could eventually be expanded to include the management of a catchment area.

“This would provide much-needed employ- ment through increasing maintenance teams and it would create awareness on pollution problems among local residents,” Sim emphasises.

He states that potential pollution in the natural environment should be dealt with at the point source and it should be the responsibility of the property owner to ensure pollution is monitored.

Meanwhile, many of industries have existing underground oil separators, which have never been emptied, causing oil to flow directly through the water-control structure to the formalised stormwater system during a storm. “The majority of pollution-control structures are effective for the first few months after imple- mentation, but they soon become blocked and/ or damaged and, essentially, a dumping ground for illegally disposed refuse,” says Sim.
He notes that there are few pollution-control structures that are still operating effectively in South Africa, with the root cause being the absence of an operational maintenance plan.

“Many of the municipalities do not have the capacity or an operational maintenance programme in place and are restricted by budget allocations to enforce regular maintenance of pollution-control structures,” highlights Sim.

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Grooved piping system superior to traditional joining

Mechanical joints are increasingly being used in the transport of water, owing to the advantages offered by grooved piping systems in laying pipework cross-country, which make them superior to traditional joining techniques, mechanical pipe-joining systems manu-facturer Victaulic regional manager Barry van Jaarsveld tells Engineering News.

“Victaulic’s latest development in grooved technology is for medium- to large-diameter pipes between 350 mm and 1 524 mm and is ideal for transporting water,” he says.

Van Jaarsveld says the Advanced Groove System (AGS), which Victaulic is continuously upgrading, is designed to offer enhanced strength and reliability through a more robust coupling housing and a patented wedge-shaped roll groove that is deeper and wider than those of other couplings in the market, providing increased coupling-to-pipe engagement.

Victaulic, in January, expanded its AGS range in South Africa with the introduction of the AGS Vic-Ring system, which consists of Style W07 rigid AGS couplings, the Style W77 flexible AGS couplings and specially designed rings containing a patented AGS profile.

“The rings are butt-welded to the pipe ends, and the coupling is assembled on two rings — one on each pipe end — to complete the joint. “Style W07 couplings create a completely rigid joint, while Style W77 couplings allow limited linear and angular pipe movement at the pipe joint. These couplings can be used to accommodate thermal expansion and contraction, vibration, seismic movement and applications requiring flexibility,” explains Van Jaarsveld.

In addition, Van Jaarsveld states the Victaulic Style 77 flexible coupling underwent a significant upgrade in the past year, and its new two-piece design reduces excess handling concerns and enables simplified installation.

Style 77 is rated for 300-pounds-a-square-inch (psi) service from 350 mm to 550 mm, and for 250 psi service in the 600 mm pipe size. The two-piece Style 77 coupling was previously only available for pipes sized 20 mm to 300 mm. A multipiece housing was required for pipes with larger diameters. Style 77 is available with a grade E ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber gasket for water services, or a grade T nitrile gasket for the handling of air with oil vapours.

Van Jaarsveld notes that installing pipework outdoors can create numerous difficulties for engineers.
“Many problems may be caused by harsh external conditions, resulting from bad weather, difficult terrain, ground swells and landslides. Access to basic amenities, such as electricity, is also often a challenge. It is not always easy to bring a generator to remote areas in tough climates while ensuring maximum safety levels are maintained. Therefore, delays are a common outcome,” he says.

However, Victaulic says its grooved systems help alleviate many of the problems associated with using traditional joining methods in the field.
Van Jaarsveld points out that mechanical joints are perfect for outdoor and remote use as they can be assembled by hand without power tools and can be mounted under any weather conditions, unlike welding which requires dry conditions.

“Couplings provide visual confirmation of proper installation and there is no need for X-ray testing. “With a union at every joint, the couplings offer added flexibility and are more easily adjusted if alterations are needed,” he says, adding that another benefit of using grooved mechanical piping systems is flame-free assembly. This reduces the risk of fire, as well as other work-related hazards during installation, which is important for installations in dry conditions, where the risk of using hot-works outdoors in the countryside could lead to veld fires.

Further, Van Jaarsveld notes that a typical large-diameter joint that requires several hours to weld can be installed easily in less than one hour using Victaulic AGS couplings.

“With a two-piece housing and a wedge-shaped groove that delivers pressure ratings up to 348 psi, depending on the pipe size and wall thickness, Victaulic AGS couplings offer assembly speed and reliability,” he asserts.

Previous joining methods for larger-sized piping systems required multiple housings to achieve the same results.

“Victaulic is the only manufacturer in the world to offer a two-piece housing for couplings in this size range,” boasts Van Jaarsveld.

He explains that in 2011 leaks were discovered in a major 500-mm-diameter welded pipeline serving the Springbok area, in Gauteng. The Sedibeng Water Board contracted consulting and design engineer BVi Consulting Engineers to design the rehabilitation and replacement work on the existing main water supply pipeline. As a temporary replacement for part of the aging but vital 54-km-long pipeline, BVi designed a 14 km bypass surface pipeline that accommodated continuous water supply over difficult terrain. It comprised 300 mm carbon steel medium pipe on concrete plinths.

“BVi, initially acting as project manager and later as a consultant, relied on Victaulic grooved mechanical pipe-joining solutions to ensure continuous water supply to local areas. “The Style 77 couplings allowed fast installation using local labour and delivered considerable benefits over the flanged or welded alternative,” says Van Jaarsveld.

Green Aspects

“Even before the evolution of green building, the grooved piping system has been providing a more efficient, cleaner and safer system, compared with other pipe-joining methods, such as welding, soldering or brazing,” he states, adding that by reducing the need for these techniques, air quality is improved, less particulate matter is released into the atmosphere and fire risk is decreased.

Further Van Jaarsveld says pipes that are joined by welding or soldering require vast amounts of electricity for prolonged periods, consuming up to 4 000 W/h of energy on a 200-mm-diameter nominal joint.

“A Victaulic grooved mechanical pipe joint does not require the use of electricity during installation, reducing the draw on burdened power resources,” he explains.

During installation, Victaulic mechanical grooved piping systems significantly reduce or eliminate waste and emissions, such as lead oxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and hydrochloric acid, in addition to many other harmful particles and gases, and noise pollution on the jobsite, providing a safer and healthier environment.

Victaulic is a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa and is involved in the world’s foremost environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings, the Building Research Establishment Environ-mental Assessment Method.

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Bateman Africa awarded Feed contract for Sasol demineralisation plant

Global mining, technology and equipment supplier Tenova Mining and Minerals’ local empowerment arm Bateman Africa has been awarded a contract by energy group Sasol to conduct the front-end engineering and design (Feed) for additional water demineralisation trains in Sasolburg. 

The proposed project would add one-third of the currently installed capacity to the existing demineralisation plant, which was built between 1997 and 2001, and had a nominal production capacity of 1 250 m3/h and an installed capacity of 1 500 m3/h.

The plant produced both low-conductivity boiler feed water and ultrapure demineralised water.

Bateman said in a statement on Monday that expansion work was currently under way and was expected to be completed in May

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Company delivers valve order, contributes to community development

Engineering supplies specialist Incledon has completed supplying its range of ARI valves to the Sekuruweto Fothane bulk pipeline project, in Limpopo, which aims to ensure a sustainable water supply for the communities in the area.

“It is also the greatest-value air valve project in Limpopo to date,” states Incledon civil representative Alan Taylor.

The Mokgalakwena municipality published the tender in November 2011 and, in June 2012, announced construction company L&R Civil, a subsidiary of Raubex Group, as the successful bidder to complete the 15 km steel bulk pipeline, he adds.

Following the announcement, L&R approached Incledon for valve specifications and prices and, as the company was able to meet all the requirements, it was successful in obtaining the order and delivered the ARI air valves in February 2013.

Air-release valve manufacturer ARI Flow Control Africa product manager Dawid Deysel notes that the valve sizes supplied vary from 100 mm to 300 mm, with nominal pressure ratings of PN16 and PN25.

“The valves release air while the pipeline is filled with water and reduce water hammer during operation. They also allow air into the pipeline during negative pressures, which prevents the pipes from collapsing and ensures a constant safe water supply to the community,” he explains.

Taylor points out that supplying the valves on time was a challenge the company faced – to meet and ensure timeous project deadlines while most of these valves had to be imported. “We had to ensure that delivery was on time to prevent any possible project delays.”

He notes, however, that the valves, having arrived according to plan and supplied by Incledon, have not yet been installed on the pipeline, owing to a delay in the supply of the steel fittings and pipes.


The bulk pipeline project will ensure that water is supplied to the local community and Incledon has gained exposure for its range of ARI air valves in the local market, Deysel states.

Further, Taylor notes that there is increased awareness among contractors and engineers across the valves industry regarding the need for air valves in pipelines, which is confirmed by the increased demand for these products.

He adds that Incledon provides valve training and issues certificates to course attendees, which helps to alleviate the skills challenge experienced across all local industrial sectors and within government.

“The training provides a basic understanding of how air valves function in a pipeline and why they are necessary,” Deysel explains, adding that the company also provides much informal training on site.

Taylor notes that the valves market is buoyant, with Incledon pricing tenders every day for different products, pipes and fittings. “The growing demand for valves is experienced locally as government is investing in infra- structure to provide water for citizens.”

Looking Back
ARIFlowControl was formed in 1999, when an Israeli-based valves company, ARI, entered into a joint venture agreement with South Africa-based valves manufacturer Floquip Valves and Johan Barnard of valves company Lomsin to market a new range of air-release valves locally.

“The South African market is considered to be important, as it offers considerable business opportunities as well as a high level of engineer- ing, which shows an appreciation for quality products,” ARI marketing manager Dan Cohen told Engineering News in November 1999.

At the time, the 19-year-old company already had distributors worldwide, including Australia, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam, France and the US.

It also had a strong presence in the UK, with three big companies, and a network of distributors throughout South America; it was also expanding into the Eastern countries and Canada.

Although the company had sold its product in South Africa before, Cohen said, from a stra- tegic point of view, the company had recognised the value of having a greater presence in the country.

“We feel that South Africa should be one of our most important markets and we want to bring investment into the country to support local employment in industry.

“Besides distributing the product through the new company here, there is a possibility of setting up manufacturing facilities in the country,” he added in 1999.

Currently, the company manufactures and markets a line of air valves, check valves and unmeasured flow reducers. It also provides software system analyses for surge and air-valve sizing and placement, with branches in the US, Germany, Russia, China and South Africa, and markets in more than 90 countries worldwide.

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Water access has improved – Thabethe

South Africa’s water provision authorities have improved access to one of the most critical aspects of sustainable socioeconomic development and the eradication of poverty – water.

The country had “done a lot” in harnessing water resources in support of its socioeconomic development efforts, Trade and Industry Deputy Minister Elizabeth Thabethe said this week.

Speaking at the Zimbabwe Water Resources and Infrastructure Investment Summit, in Bulawayo, she commented that the most recent census had revealed that 91% of the population have access to improved water sources and 79% have access to improved sanitation.

“The improvement is the result of the country’s 15 water provision authorities including local and district local municipalities, [and was] driven by the Millennium Development Goals, climate change, an improved framework for government and financing,” Thabethe explained.

South Africa was widely known as being water scarce and holding its position as the thirtieth-driest country worldwide.

She noted that water should be at the “core of the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication”, and recommitted South Africa to strengthening cooperation with neighbouring countries in developing water resources that are sustainable.

It was also important to source skills across government, the private sector and civil society, while building capacity to manage water resources effectively and efficiently, as human capital, governance and leadership development were identified as some of the challenges in ensuring effective and efficient water resource management, she concluded.

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Water, wastewater infrastructure crucial to sustaining ecosystems

The most crucial infrastructure for man-aging South Africa’s environment is water and wastewater infrastructure. The dire need to improve wastewater-treatment plants and water management skills in South Africa can also develop significant, sustainable employment, says Rhodes University Unilever Centre for Environmental Water Quality direc-tor Professor Tally Palmer.

“Our ability to supply rivers with the water they require to function depends, in turn, on our management of dams. ‘Infrastructure development is often regarded as being in opposition to environmental protection. However, we must think about infrastructure specifically in relation to the maintenance of ecosystems that offer us services,” she says.

“Another particularly important infrastructure focus where South Africa has not taken as much initiative as it could is wastewater treatment works, which is critical infrastructure that acts as a buffer between human waste discharge and environmental functions,” highlights Palmer.

In South Africa, inadequate wastewater treatment is deteriorating the quality of water and diminishing the capabilities of river systems to cope with contaminants. It is also costing industries that extract the water money. This necessitates that consensus be developed through engagement among all industries on the effective treatment of wastewater and industrial pollution streams entering river systems to reduce costs to industry.

The importance of wastewater treatment functioning as a buffer between human health and environmental health means that the Green Drop wastewater treatment initiative is the most important water management innovation in the past five to ten years, she emphasises.

“In South Africa, the intervention that would make the most difference to river health is efficient and sufficient wastewater treatment. If government wants to focus on a job-creation programme and skills development and train- ing, then the programmes that will increase the capacity to efficiently operate wastewater-treatment works will be necessary and sustain- able. “Currently, many of our wastewater-treat- ment works are held together and are oper- ated beyond design capacity by engineers.”

If government aims to improve infrastructure investment in water, then the upgrading, maintenance and construction of new and existing wastewater-treatment works would be the most effective method to boost water quality and river health, Palmer says.

“Importantly, if infrastructure is the mediat- ing layer between society and the environment, it is vulnerable to human error in its maintenance and management. It is no use having a dam that can release environmentally necessary flows if the managers do not understand what they are doing and why they are doing it.”

“Building infrastructure is the easy part; training and engaging with the people who manage the infrastructure are the important parts,” she avers.

Many jobs can be created through a wastewater-treatment initiative, similar to the nonprofit programme Working on Fire and the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs’ work programme Working for Water, Palmer highlights.

However, the coordination of further education and training colleges will be needed to produce the skilled operators and wastewater-treatment workers. This can be subsidised as a job-creation process, requiring the relevant sector education and training authority to intervene to enable South Africa to husband its water sources.

Water Researchers

“If we focus on this for ten years and upgrade and make wastewater-treatment works efficient, this process will have a significant effect on South Africa’s river health. Water researchers regard the management of infrastructure as a key intervention point to manage the environ- ment.”

Palmer highlights that tertiary institutions, researchers and industries will have to engage directly and continuously with communities and wastewater-treatment workers and managers to improve wastewater-treatment understanding and, hence, the effectiveness of management to improve river health and water quality in South Africa.

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Water, wastewater infrastructure crucial to sustaining ecosystems
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