The social and economic impact of not adequately planning for water supply is substantial. Henk Smit, managing director, Vovani Water Products, explains what the implications are and what municipalities should be doing to avoid a crisis.

South Africa is a semi-arid country. Historically, what has the country’s water situation been and what can we expect going forward?

HS  South Africa has always been a water-scarce country, and we have built infrastructure to secure our water supply during seasons with little to no rainfall.

Droughts are not unknown to us. We have experienced several periods with below average seasonal rainfall, resulting in poor crop yields and dangerously low dam water levels. The periods from 1964 to 1970, 1991 to 1995 and again from 2002 to 2005 serve as examples of this. The quick succession of such periods causes insufficient time for natural resources and the economy to recover from these rainfall-deficient phases.

As we are currently experiencing the worst drought in 100 years, we should focus even more on infrastructure and the latest water treatment technologies to improve our water situation and ensure the water security that we need to thrive as a nation.

Cape Town is rapidly approaching Day Zero. What are the implications of a city like Cape Town running out of water?

A huge impact will be felt by many communities, with problems like diseases and deaths a real possibility. Water is an integral part of everyone’s life – to bath, cook, wash and drink – and without it, a city like Cape Town could come to a standstill. Economically, this would be devastating.

Tourism also plays a large role in the city’s income, and if domestic and international visitors choose not to make Cape Town their destination of choice, the ripple effect on the local economy will be significant.

Although not all cities are experiencing drought conditions at present, what should all municipalities consider when it comes to long-term water planning?

Municipalities should all be looking at the management of their water sources and how they can reduce water wastage. Water reuse is also important to consider because treating secondary water effluent to potable standards would allow municipalities to supplement their water supply base.

More municipalities should consider using technologies like ultrafiltration to replace conventional water treatment systems because it offers very low water wastage and much higher water quality. Ultrafiltration filters down to 0.01 µm, removing all bacteria and certain viruses, and provides feedwater recoveries as high as 90% to 95%.

What are the implications of not planning for increased long-term water demands and future droughts?

The implications can be clearly seen all around South Africa. The population growth and changing weather patterns of cities like Cape Town and Port Elizabeth have caught up with them, and water scarcity is more real now than ever.

If planning is not done for the next 10 to 20 years, and then on an ongoing basis, not only will communities suffer from the scarce supply of drinking water, but many diseases will occur in areas where water is not available for the wastewater distribution networks and for basic human use.

The economic impact on our country will be huge as well. Many businesses cannot operate without large quantities of water to manufacture their products. This will lead to more job losses and rising unemployment. The agricultural sector also depends heavily on water to ensure
food security.

What solutions and technologies should municipalities be exploring to supplement water supply in the long term?

Water treatment in the form of large-scale projects is required to make a real difference and to ensure that the water needs of all sectors in our country are met. About 70% of our water is used for agriculture, which impacts on our local produce supply and our ability for export.

Ultrafiltration is a technology that is able to treat any type of surface water, which is not out of range on mineral levels, to potable standards for all communities to use. We have supplied ultrafiltration solutions to many of our clients to treat borehole water to drinking water standard, for use in industrial applications, or for home use.

If water catchment can be improved and increased, ultrafiltration can replace conventional water treatment systems. It is easier to operate and will supply the same quality of water even if the quality of the water source is affected by the seasons.

Desalination remains the best option for not only many coastal municipalities, but also for the municipalities surrounding larger coastal towns to which treated seawater can be distributed. Large-scale desalination water plants can produce 100 MLD to 200 MLD – enough drinking water to serve municipal metropoles and secure water supply for the long term.

What are the short-term solutions for towns hit hard by drought?

Depending on where municipalities are situated, there are several options to consider. In the short term, water reuse has to be considered by all municipalities – treating wastewater to potable standard. A very good example is the Beaufort West water treatment plant, where ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis are used to treat secondary effluent to drinking water standard.

For municipalities along the coast, desalination is a definitive option. Desalination has advanced technologically in the past 10 years and become a more cost-effective solution. When implemented correctly, desalination can provide significant relief to communities, as has been seen in places like Israel and the Middle East, as well as smaller plants in South Africa.

If groundwater is available and can be accessed with boreholes, ultrafiltration alone can be used to treat water to drinking standards. Additional treatment may be required for brackish water or water with high iron content.

How can Vovani assist municipalities in securing South Africa’s water future?

Vovani Water Products represents international suppliers of the latest water treatment technologies. Vovani is able to supply these technologies into the South African market as part of complete water treatment systems for wastewater reuse, desalination, and surface
water purification.

At Vovani, we have the knowledge and expertise to educate municipalities on the latest water treatment technologies, and how these products can be implemented to produce potable drinking water and ensure adequate water supply.

Working with consulting engineering and OEM companies, we are able to supply municipalities with the best solutions to long-term
water security.