Consulting engineering company SRK reports that with careful planning and research, potable water use in South Africa could be reduced by 25%.
SRK principal hydrologist and partner, based at the company’s Johannesburg office Peter Shepherd, says that it is estimated that industry uses about 27% of South Africa’s current demand for potable water.
He adds that even though industry is extremely serious about reducing demand for potable water, and can reflect savings of up to 40% in demand from suppliers, more can be done to save water by reusing grey water.
Grey water is made up of bath, shower, bathroom sink and washing machine water and other water that has already been used.
While progressive industrial undertakings are setting the pace in South Africa for the efficient use of scarce water resources, more needs to be done to further reduce industrial demands on potable water supplies, says Shepherd.
He adds that existing industrial undertakings are resulting in investments of billions of rands on research and improved facilities for the reuse of water. New undertakings, he says, are opting for processes to lessen pollution and optimise water use.
Shepherd says that, since the implementation of the Water Act (1998), SRK Consulting has assisted industry in obtaining water licences.
Work for established industry, which is aimed at protecting of the environment, is ongoing and will continue for at least another two years.
“We assess the potential problems and prepare a technical report for remedial action. We also handle the collation of the complex requirements for a water licence application that is sub- mitted to the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs,” he says.
SRK Consulting has completed about 50 water licence applications for industry, with about 60% of these for the mining industry and about 20% for the petrochemicals industry.
“This was an enormous challenge. We had to assess industrial projects by looking at design and mitigating measures undertaken on properties. A lot of water- related work had to be undertaken to ensure that the mines, other industries, as well as the property development industry are compliant with regulations. Measures have been implemented to prevent pollution of the environment and a considerable amount of storm water management has been undertaken. Billions of rands has been spent by industry to comply with the Act,” says Shepherd.
However, he explains that this investment by industry also represents savings that the mines would have had to spend for the closure of a mine or factory that would have to be cleaned up, had pollution not been effectively managed.
“The cost of cleaning up is much more than the cost of implementing measures to prevent pollution,” says Shepherd.
“The focus in industry today is to prevent pollution at its source. Industry has taken this responsibility extremely seriously.”
Talking about a further change in thinking, Shepherd says that a significant development has been the design of new industrial undertakings. In the past, a development had a large footprint area, which resulted in a potentially greater polluted area. A greater polluted area will result in greater volumes of dirty water emanating from the site during rainfall and larger and more expensive containment facilities will be required.
“We have noted a significant shift in new developments that are placed on a much smaller footprint. This has resulted in smaller amounts of polluted water flowing from the site. This is intentional, the upfront planning is far more sophisticated and the ongoing cost of water pollution control is less.”
Shepherd says that while environmental management consultants were previously largely responsible for identifying water solutions, consultants are now employed to assist with upfront planning and to anticipate and minimise potential challenges.
However, he says that it is disappointing that industry has not significantly reduced its water use. Shepherd suggests that more effort needs to be put into the use of grey water, instead of using potable water.
Potable water should not be used by industry where water of a lower quality can be used.
“South African industry uses about 27% of the country’s water, which should be replaced with sewerage water or water from one industry transferred to another. This revolves around cleaning water for reuse, but it is not necessary to purify water to potable standards for reuse.
“The challenge is that piping infrastructure is usually linked up to a primary water source. To change this to receive treated sewerage water or other grey- water sources requires a new pipeline, which requires a separate pipe reticulation which entails massive capital expenditure,” he says.
Experts estimate that the industrial demand on potable water could be reduced by a further 25%, which is possible, if industry is serious about reducing its water demand from primary sources.
He says that there is a growing demand for groundwater and pollution of this resource can result in a serious challenge. SRK Consulting is currently tackling several significant historical challenges, which require the remediation of groundwater in areas previously used by industry and now required for alternative use.
Significant and current challenges facing water engineers in South Africa are water quality, water pollution, floods and droughts. Good planning has to be undertaken to lessen the risk of flooding in new areas of development, particularly where catchment areas are now fully developed. A requirement is that flood levels have to be determined before any infrastructure is started.
In dry areas, where develop- ment is necessary, SRK Consult-ing is securing water by exploring groundwater resources or identifying suitable surface water reserves. Shepherd says that SRK Consulting’s hydrological department has been affected by the economic recession with some strategic industrial projects being placed on hold.
He says that one of the significant challenges in the water sector in the future will be water pollution. “The worsening quality of water as it is reused by industry will require special attention,” he concludes.