Water is one of South Africa’s most critical resources. Half of the country’s water comes from only 10% of its surface area and in some cases, such as Johannesburg, additional water is sourced from outside our borders. But, as the WWF puts it, we have fallen into the trap of thinking water comes from a tap or dam. It doesn’t. These are simply part of a value chain that starts in nature and more needs to be done to ensure those natural resources keep on providing. Data from the Department of Environmental Affairs paints a worrying picture: 57% of local river ecosystem types are threatened, almost half of which are critically endangered.
“We must turn this situation around,” says Chetan Mistry, Xylem South Africa’s strategy and marketing manager. “Fortunately, today we know more about water management and there are many best practice examples that make a difference. I would say that water challenges that seemed unsolvable not so long ago are now much easier to tackle. If we really want to, we can make South Africa a far stronger water nation.”
By collaborating with partners worldwide, Xylem has built up considerable experience for better water management. It recommends several interventions to make local water a more sustainable resource.
Irrigation for agriculture is the biggest consumer of water (around 65% of surface water). Many still rely on wasteful irrigation systems and there is room to introduce new techniques such as drip irrigation. Farmers can also benefit from better soil and watering monitoring systems, taking the guesswork out of how much water crops need. Xylem provides water control and management systems for large and small farms.
Improved performance of water infrastructure
South Africa benefits from a vast amount of water infrastructure, including numerous larger dams and substantial pipelines feeding into cities and towns. But according to a Greencape report, 37% of our water is lost through leaks. Using technologies such as Xylem’s Smartball acoustic sensor, leaks can be detected before becoming a serious problem.
Educating urban users on saving water
South Africans are not very sensitive about water resources. It’s too easy to take water for granted, so Xylem encourages education around water management. Businesses that consciously want to save on water costs can train their staff. Such education is even more effective when working with communities. Xylem’s corporate social arm, Watermark, frequently collaborates with local communities and NPOs to promote responsible water usage that resonates with the people on the ground.
More protection for water areas
As mentioned earlier, South Africa’s rivers and wetlands are not in a good position and many are critically endangered. Likewise, many catchment areas are not protected and often fall prey to new developments that upset the local ecology. Yet, those ecologies capture and filter water for our use. If they run dry, no amount of rain will change the picture. Xylem collaborates with other stakeholders to create sustainable practices around water resources, such as the W12 conference. It provides environmental monitoring and analysis services to understand the needs of local areas such as wetlands, aquifers and rivers.
Water re-use and discharging water responsibly
Water becomes more sustainable if it’s in a recycling loop. This principle applies notably to two areas: first is to encourage people to re-use water, which could refer to purification for drinking, but also includes grey water for irrigation and capturing rainwater. On the other end of the spectrum, responsible discharge of wastewater avoids contaminating potable water.
“We believe there is enough water for everyone in South Africa, but only if we can manage water in a prudent and sustainable manner,” concludes Mistry. “Today, we have many more tools at our disposal to make that a reality. In terms of technology, there are advanced energy-saving pumps, soil water probes, remote sensing data and wastewater treatment solutions, to name just a few. The means to ensure South Africa’s water security are there, they must just be applied in an holistic way.”
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