Desalination plants could help secure South Africa’s future
It’s South Africa’s greatest irony – a country ravaged by drought, that’s surrounded by ocean. Home to one of Africa’s busiest ports, it seems almost nonsensical that a country so economically dependent upon the ocean should be facing a water crisis. And yet, in 2018, South Africa’s water woes are well-documented.
A Country in Water Crisis
Concurrent water crises in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and other provinces, have taken an extreme toll on the country’s agricultural and economic progress. Notably, as media attention swung to Cape Town’s #DayZero, other provinces have battled to fend off switching off the taps too. Municipal, provincial, and national, water management services remain hard at work, considering new ways to ensure South Africa doesn’t run dry.
Water Conservation Efforts Are Essential
Of course, on-the-ground water conservation efforts have had a big impact in helping South Africa manage and mitigate the current water crisis, but those are finite in their effect. With an ever-growing population, and significant urban development programmes demanding more and more from limited infrastructure, at some point, conservation efforts won’t be enough.
We Have the Ocean
Although South Africa’s status as a water-scarce country surrounded by ocean seems somewhat ironic, the solution to the current water crises may indeed lie along the coastline. As the City of Cape Town has commissioned desalination plants to produce additional water for its citizens, so too should the rest of the country’s coastal cities.
The Desalination Process
The process of desalination removes dissolved salts, minerals, and other materials from sea water, rendering it somewhat suitable for human consumption. Further filtration processes generate water that’s suitable for drinking and irrigation. This creates a rainfall-independent source of water for coastal cities that, all too often, face concurrent issues relating to overpopulation and over-committed natural resources.
Hope from Abroad
Desalination plants have proven to be successful, long-term, solutions for water-scarce regions, but their installation and implementation can be costly. Perhaps that’s why a mere 1 to 2% of the world’s current water supply can be traced back to these useful facilities, although that figure is growing. Interestingly, however, Israel has managed to turn its water future around, using a combination of water conservation policies, drip irrigation, and the implementation of desalination plants. Tapping into non-traditional water supply methods is no longer off-beat, with Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Cyprus, and more, having invested heavily in desalination plants. Although desalination plants have proven to be highly energy intensive, their benefits in terms of solving the issues relating to water scarcity seem to far outweigh power problems.
South Africa’s Desalination Plants
Public response to the water crisis in the Western Cape turned the science behind desalination into dinner table talk, with citizens demanding quick action from municipal and provincial administration. Construction of a desalination plant is, however, not a silver bullet that can be fired in an instant. Beyond just the installation and implementation of a desalination plant, the correct storage and transport of potable water remains a key concern.
The V&A Waterfront
Commissioned by the City of Cape Town, a large-scale desalination plant was selected for installation to serve the tourist-popular Victoria and Alfred Waterfront (V&A Waterfront). Attracting more than 23 million visitors per year, and a key focal point for industry and commerce, the V&A Waterfront is an important component of the city’s economic growth. As both a tourist hotspot and commercial hub, the irony of water scarcity looms large within the precinct, with office blocks forced to conserve water indoors, while looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean.
SBS Tanks and Water Storage
During 2018, SBS Tanks partnered with Quality Filtration Systems (QFS) and Osmoflo, to create and construct a viable, effective water desalination and storage solution for Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. Quick design, development, and construction of a suitable water storage facility was required, with the desalination plant destined to come online during the first half of 2018. Equipped to deliver 2 million litres of water per day, the V&A Waterfront desalination plant seeks to augment the City’s water supply, by enabling businesses and tourist establishments to service their needs without relying upon municipal resources.
Water Tanks at Work
Three water storage tanks, as supplied and constructed by SBS Tanks, form an integral part of this Cape Town desalination plant. Equipped to store up to 436 000 litres of water, these water tanks provide the plant with the necessary facilities to ensure that the desalination and filtration processes take place without compromise. Of course, as time is of the essence, SBS Tanks’ reputation for being able to install and implement premium water storage solutions, at speed, came to the fore. It took the SBS Tanks team just eight weeks to complete on-site construction.
What’s Next for Water
The City of Cape Town has commissioned three large-scale desalination plants, located in the V&A Waterfront, Monwabisi, and Strandfontein. While these plants seek to augment the City’s worryingly constrained water supply, they won’t solve the water crisis. While Cape Town has faced a terrifying water crisis, it would be remiss of South Africa to think that other regions are immune. A seawater desalination plant in South Africa, located in Mossel Bay, provides just 10 million litres of water per day, to the region, with another 5 allocated to PetroSA. Similarly, a desalination plant located in KwaZulu-Natal’s Richards Bay provides 10 megalitres per day, primarily for communities in and around the region. But these facilities, and those like them, are not enough to stave off stave off water scarcity in South Africa.
Combined efforts in terms of water conservation, recycling, and other programmes, remain essential, even when seawater can be used to provide potable water. Continued commitment from the public sector, private sector, and individuals is vital to secure South Africa’s future.