Water Solutions Southern Africa (WSSA) has taken the lead role in developing and implementing private sector participation within the water sector in Southern Africa, WSSA’s director, Sylvia Tshivhunge, tells Chantelle Mattheus.

This has been primarily though the company’s municipal and industrial clients delegating the management, technical support, operational and maintenance responsibilities for these water, effluent and wastewater services to a specialised company such as WSSA without relinquishing their rights of ownership of their assets or their contractual regulatory and monitoring responsibilities. WSSA has been specialising for over 26 years in the upgrading, optimisation, management, operation and maintenance of water and effluent systems throughout Southern Africa, covering not only the industrial sector but also the municipal environment, from large cities and towns through to municipal peri-urban and rural areas.

“We currently operate more than 650 facilities across eight of the nine provinces in South Africa and provide specialist services to industry and the water sector in Uganda, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique, Qatar and Lebanon. Today, we provide over 426 000 m3/d of treated water and treat over 206 000 m3/d of effluent and wastewater through our management operation and maintenance contract frameworks,” says Tshivhunge.

Holistic approach
“We provide our clients with complete peace of mind and hands-off solutions to the entire water cycle,” continues Tshivhunge, adding that this is achieved through their independence from specific technologies and chemical suppliers, as well as their integrated life cycle cost approach. “Clients are ensured of the most appropriate technology at optimum costs. As a professional service provider with extensive hands-on experience, we approach projects from a holistic perspective to minimise capital and operating costs of final water systems.”

WSSA’s process involves assessing clients’ requirements, designing and developing customised service delivery solutions, including, where applicable, the process route, laboratory or pilot plant test work, selection of the best-suited technology from the market place for and on behalf of the client, project-managing the procurement, installation and commissioning, and then taking over the operation, maintenance and technical support of the plant.

“Our Total Water Management approach allows us to create value in a sustainable way for our clients using the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) approach, injecting sustainability factors going beyond the traditional concept planning, design, construction and commissioning of water systems by including their subsequent management, operations and maintenance,” explains Tshivhunge, adding that this ensures not only sound asset management and maintenance to extend the life cycle of water infrastructure, but also the ongoing improvement of its economics in the long run in relation to aspects such as energy, fuel and chemicals consumption, asset renewal, performance outputs, availability, environmental footprint and the latest technological developments.

Evolutionary management systems
WSSA is also one of the few water service providers in Southern Africa that has ISO 9001, ISO 14001, as well as OHSAS 18001 certifications throughout its operations nationally, with all three integrated into a single management system.

These certifications provide assurance to clients embarking on service delivery partnerships with WSSA that they will receive the best value proposal for their water and wastewater services. In addition, a customer feedback system is in place through regular customer surveys conducted by the company’s quality managers, and legal compliance audits are done to ensure that clients’ assets and plants are compliant with changing legislations.

“Our ISO management system is evolutionary and heavily relies on continuous improvement as stakeholders’ needs – namely clients, customers, communities, employees, authorities, regulators and shareholders – evolve.” She adds that measurement, analysis and iteration are key components of such improvement, the latter being rolled out through detailed measurable action plans.

Municipal sector in focus
As a water services operator in the municipal sector specifically, the organisation provides water service authorities with the full spectrum of water services with the view to continuously improve and sustain water and wastewater service delivery to communities and consumers. “Our services cover the whole water cycle from bulk drinking water production, water and wastewater distribution, wastewater treatment and customer management for urban and rural communities.

Varied clients and sectors
WSSA also presently provides services to several provincial and regional government or parastatal departments, providing the towns and communities in their areas with an extensive range of technical, construction,operational and process expertise through numerous contract frameworks and appointments. “A prime example is where we are the sole water and sanitation service provider to over 3.8 million people in three key district municipalities, with 16 local municipalities, covering an area of 36 000 km2. This also includes the major city in the region, with its industrial and export hub,” she states.

Contract intricacies
WSSA also does operations and maintenance contracts, where it takes over the responsibility for the management, operation and routine maintenance of the bulk water and wastewater treatment systems, as well as the associated water and sewer reticulation systems where required. “In these contracts, we generally provide the management, supervision, operating personnel and routine maintenance on a fixed monthly charge, with chemicals, consumables, energy, repairs and replacement being carried out on a quotation, cost plus or day work basis, ” says Tshivhunge.

Other options include leasing contracts where the traditional O&M model is replaced with longer term leasing or hybrid leasing contracts (5 to 15 years). Within this framework, in addition to management, operation and maintenance services, WSSA also takes over the responsibility and cost for the preventative maintenance, repairs and, in cases, the replacement of system assets. WSSA also has a wide range of existing contracts for municipal and industrial water and wastewater systems where they are responsible for the management, operation, maintenance, repair and replacement of the water and wastewater treatment systems and associated bulk distribution, pump station and reservoir systems, charging a fixed monthly fee. In addition to the O&M cost, this fee covers the cost of chemicals, energy, repairs and prescribed asset replacement. “In these contracts, there is normally a fixed monthly charge and often a volume based charge, the latter based on the total volume of water and wastewater treated,” explains Tshivhunge.

Technical and operational support
WSSA’s technical and operational support services within the municipal water and wastewater sector include asset management, network management, water demand, conservation and loss management, crises interventions, benchmarking, quality monitoring and laboratory services, customer management services, capital works programmes, rural water and sanitation services, water utility support and training. With regards to network management specifically, WSSA manages, operates and maintains over 26 000 km of bulk water transmission systems, together with their associated weirs, intake towers, pump stations, water towers and reservoirs.

She adds that in most of these contracts WSSA is fully responsible for the maintenance and repair of the pipelines and associated fittings, valves and meters, and has mobile repair teams and standby resources to ensure 24/7 response to any eventuality. “Where the distribution of water to the end consumers is included in contracts, we manage the metering operation as well.”

“On many of our contracts we take the full cost and risk of all repairs, replacement and water losses within the distribution system, either on a fixed charge or rate per cubic metre of individual metered consumption, incentivising us to maintain the plant at maximum state of repair and efficiency, as all system losses would be for our own account.”

Closing the gap
WSSA is doing what it can to assist in the provision of water professionals to the industry through the provision of SETA accredited training programmes in water and wastewater process control, not only within its operations, but also as a service to its clients.

“We carry out skills gap evaluations throughout organisations and then design and implement tailored training and skills development programmess for their employees, taking into account recognition of prior learning.” Tshivhunge adds that these programmes are aligned with the local training initiatives, accreditation programmes, subsidies and tax relief initiatives, to ensure not only compliance, but also to minimise costs.

These programmes address not only operational processes, but also practical plumbing and pipe laying skills, technical support services, health and safety, and other water-related services. These are often linked to change management initiatives aimed at motivating and transforming the staff into an effective business unit. “Equally as important, we provide on-site management, supervision and trainers tomanage the system over an initial period, while local skills are recruited, trained and mentored to take over these responsibilities.”

Extensive network
WSSA has a wide network of consultants, contractors and specialist service providers who can be mobilised as required to meet specific requirements. “We place particular emphasis in our international operations on expanding this network to include the local support structures and specialists within our host countries. This will also be consistent with our preference and support to be given to local suppliers and service providers as part of our local economic development objectives,” says Tshivhunge.

She believes that this will also include maintaining strong communication and cooperation links with other water service providers as well as other service providers, often valuable allies, when faced with common challenges in the water sector.