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    Alex has been consulting to many of South Africa’s blue-chip companies for the past five years, using innovative thinking to help them reduce their impact on the environment and enhance their bottom line. He is also a founding member of Carbon Calculated, a carbon management consultancy, and is also the creator of Carbon Known, a carbon management software solution.
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  • Posts Tagged ‘Water’

    Nelson Mandela Bay on brink of disaster as water crisis deepens

    Friday, March 10, 2017

    Port Elizabeth is on the brink of being declared a disaster area as the water crisis deepens

    Fast facts:

    • Despite imposing water restrictions on industry and households, the Nelson Mandela Bay’ Municipality’s principle dam – the Churchill Dam – is currently below 27% capacity.
    • The total combined capacity of the 10 dams supplying the metro was 47.2% as of Tuesday (7 March 2017). Should it dip below 45%, the metro could apply to have the region declared a disaster area.
    • During the last drought, the municipality applied for disaster relief and received R1.6bn in aid.
    • Mayor, Athol Trollip has said 20% of residents were consuming more than 70% of the city’s total water supply.
    • Annette Lovemore – mayoral committee member for infrastructure and engineering – said between 20% and 25% of potable water from treatment works was lost through leaks.
    • Since the metro had implemented water restrictions and started an awareness campaign, the number of leaks reported in February went from 16 661 in 2016 to 25 056 this year.
    • Lovemore stated that there is a shortage in the capacity to address this problem. “Our backlog is too big and our turnaround time is way too long. We should have 51 plumbers. We currently have 29.” Burst pipes were a priority, and needed to be fixed within 24 hours. The average response times for smaller leaks were between 18 and 24 days.
    • Trollip has stated that the municipality might need to resort to increasing water restrictions and imposing punitive charges for high water consumption.

    Source: News24, Derrick Spies, 07 March 2017


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    JSE firms in paucity of data on water use

    Tuesday, February 7, 2017

    One of the worst droughts in living memory could see an improvement in the dismal level of reporting on water consumption by JSE-listed companies.

    Fast Facts:

    • At present, only one-third of listed companies provide shareholders with details of their water consumption.
    • Access to reliable energy and water has been identified as the 11th most material issue facing listed companies in SA.
    • Water supply disruptions to its mines cost African Rainbow Minerals $26m in lost revenues in 2015.
    • Integrated Reporting and Assurance Services (IRAS) review reveals that only 108 of the 311 companies assessed reported water consumption data, up only slightly on the 106 that provided data in the previous year.
    • Only 36 of the 311 companies reviewed reported a target for reducing water consumption.
    • David Couldridge, head of ESG engagement at Investec Asset Management says that unlike South Africa’s recent energy problems, there is no working around water shortages.

    Source: BusinessDay: Companies/Land & Agriculture, Ann Crotty, 26 January 2017

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    SA’s water quality falls sharply

    Monday, February 6, 2017

    Water quality has deteriorated sharply, forcing the SA Dept. of Water and Sanitation to consider revoking the water licences of some municipalities.

    Fast Facts:

    • The Blue Drop tool is intended to measure the quality of drinking water and legal compliance by municipalities with requirements in providing water.
    • The Blue Drop ratings of six of the country’s nine provinces declined substantially between 2012 and 2014. One province had no system that was able to achieve Blue Drop status.
    • The Green Drop regulation process is an incentive-based regulation that compares the performance of water service institutions.
    • Nationally, the number of Blue Drop certifications awarded fell from 98 in 2012 to 44 in 2014.
    • According to the department, 152 water service authorities were assessed.
    • Blue Drop progress report for 2015 had been done and a draft report was expected by the end of April 2017.
    • The department has the authority to revoke council licences as a penalty for lack of management of treatment plants and water quality.

    Source: BusinessDay: Business and Economy, Khulekani Magubane, 26 January 2017

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    To add water, subtract weeds

    Thursday, December 15, 2016

    Mandela’s least known legacy may be his Working for Water programme, which employs thousands of marginalised people to clear invasive plant species, securing precious water supplies in perpetuity. 


    Having eradicated apartheid and sown the seeds of real democracy, Nelson Mandela had to confront a looming threat to the security and hope of South Africans. Weeds.

    The rampant growth of invasive alien plant species (IAPs) was choking riparian areas, draining river systems and overrunning natural ecological habitats – all in a semi-arid landscape where there was not enough water to
    go around.

    Each species in isolation – and there were over 80 species – may have seemed little more than a noxious nuisance. But together they had grown to cover 16 percent of the country’s land area, and the cumulative effect was to reduce annual streamflow by 7 percent.

    Recognising this risk, Mandela’s team began, through labour-intensive plant removal, to claw back 4 percent of this water, and make it newly available for human use. The result led to an inter-governmental, multi-million dollar national response known as the Working for Water (WfW) programme.

    This approach could also make sense in other parts of the world. Christo Marais, Chief Director of Natural Resource Management Programmes, of which the largest is WfW, urges governments to consider upstream alien plants in the water supply/demand equation. “The degradation and transformation of wetlands,riverbanks and flood plains leads to a reduced amount of water being absorbed into the natural systems and later released into the aquatic ecosystems,” he says.

    A national problem doesn’t arise overnight or by accident. European settlers had deliberately introduced many plant species over three hundred years to support dune stabilisation, woodlots, and tannin production. Acacias, wattle, pine and eucalyptus have become among the most prominent species. Under dry windy conditions, a single Australian bluegum (Eucalyptus salinga) can absorb seven hundred litres per square metre of leaf cover each day. Invaded landscapes can annually consume 300-400 millimetres (mm) more than natural grassland, cutting runoff by 3-4,000 cubic metres per hectare.

    South Africa is caught between diminishing rainfall (now 464mm/ year) and a growing population of 55 million. It cannot afford to sacrifice water to alien plants.

    Indeed, there’s less than nothing to spare. The country’s 2013 National Water Resource Strategy stresses that the country’s financially viable freshwater resources are already “fully utilised”, putting its 4,395 dams under immense pressure as agriculture and urban demand runs apace. As 8 percent of the country’s landmass produces more than half its runoff, every drop must be harnessed for productive use.

    “The water needs to be captured before we lose it,” says Marais. “We can’t allow the natural ecosystems to clog with invasive alien vegetation.” He adds that every 3-10 hectares of densely infested land, once restored to full ecological function through alien plant eradication, releases enough water to irrigate a hectare of land in perpetuity.

    After amassing two decades of proof, WfW has become a poster child for innovative, strategic, and scalable responses to invasive vegetation – augmenting supplies in water scarce regions. But Marais says this isn’t an either/or approach to water security.

    “It is important to understand that the eradication of aliens works in tandem, and supports, necessary infrastructure,” he says. “All we are doing is improving the efficiency of existing water supply systems.”

    As a supplementary service WfW can focus on water replenishment while exploring the wider social benefits of a plant-clearing public works programme.

    The WfW model has attracted foreign visits and requests for presentation worldwide. While replicated nowhere in its exact form, other public employment programmes adapt its restorative focus. China’s “Grain for Green” project rehabilitates degraded mountainous areas while Ethiopia leverages labour, policy and official support to restore watershed services. Yet any city, agency or nation seeking to adapt the WfW recipe must grasp the five ingredients that underpin it.

    First, before eradicating existing alien species, stop new arrivals. National and local policy prohibits the continued introduction of invasive plants into the natural landscape, coupled with land use incentives against their detrimental effect. Trained customs officials practice stringent control at South Africa’s ports of entry.

    Second, strategic investment can yield multiple outcomes. By working directly with land users, WfW can direct government, corporate and development funding towards the most critical areas where eradication of invasive vegetation can yield the highest water resources. In the arid, northern part of the country, the state electricity utility, Eskom, led partners to invest US$3.3 million by clearing plants in order to enhance water availability and the productive land use for communities upstream of a newly built coal-fired power station.

    Also, research and development pays surprising dividends. For example, biological control of alien infestations may prove the most natural, safe and affordable tool. Officials annually invest US$3.5 million in the strictly managed introduction of host-specific species that drastically reduce seed production and even, in some cases, kill off the alien species.

    You also need to encourage diversified spin-offs. A strong focus on value-added enterprises from the WfW programme has germinated numerous small businesses. These convert cleared vegetation into building materials, energy sources and other economic activities. Rather than simply dispose of dead vegetation, people recycle it, even in the manufacture and distribution of school desks to the national Department of Basic Education.

    A final step is to highlight how plant eradication generates skills, income, and jobs in urban and rural areas alike. Against a national 30 percent unemployment rate, WfW forges linkages between ecosystem services and steady careers. Those benefits stand out as a double revelation. Since inception, Marais’ programme, of which WfW is part, has created more than 225,000 person-years of employment, with opportunities for the poorest and most marginalised. Indeed half of all recent WfW employment opportunities go to women, more than sixty percent are under 35 years old, and military veterans and parolees often find work through the programme.

    Even WfW proponents stress that alien-plant clearing is not a panacea for all water supply ills. Nor does it play the lead. Its importance lies in the ‘best supporting actor’ role: improving the performance of existing infrastructure. But if strategically manipulated, ecosystem service programmes like WfW can offer far wider socio-economic benefits than merely building and filling dams.

    Source: Alex Hetherington, The Source, September 2016


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    How much water are you wearing?

    Wednesday, June 29, 2016

    How much water are you wearing


    Source: Fin24, 28/06/2016

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