Department of Water Affairs and Forestry: Where education makes a splash

South Africa is a land rich in natural resources that offer prosperity for future generations. Perhaps its most under-rated commodity however is water – and educating tomorrow’s citizens about the importance of water is at the heart of a key initiative run by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWA).

deptofwater65089003Under the moniker “you educate a child you educate a nation”, the Department launched its 2020 VfWEP programme back in 1996 initially in schools within a few provinces, before rolling the education programme across the whole country in 1999.

The programme aims to educate learners at basic level on the virtues of better water management. Through the 2020 VfWEP the expectation is that learners will continue to raise awareness in their families and ultimately encourage a behavioural change for better water use practices within communities. Through 2020 VfWEP program the department hopes to instil values of natural resource management and also to promote careers in the water sector in order to address the scarce skills challenge.

deptofwater24096430VFWEP is of course one of a large number of projects well underway at a Department given charge of South Africa’s water resources. Formulating and implementing policies is a major challenge in a country with pressures not only to deliver clean and safe sanitation, but also battling to conserve water and help create sustainable economic and social development.

As is true with many other government organisations, infrastructure has become a big focus; the Department has concentrated on developing river systems and dams in an effort to improve the water supply to small and often remote villages.

In June construction began on the R200 million Category Three Ludeke Dam; the first phase of a R830 million water supply project in the Eastern Cape, being run by Umgeni Water.

Proceedings began with the closure of the Ludeke River and once built the Ludeke Dam will provide a secure source of water which it is hoped will alleviated some of the problems caused by water shortages in the Mbizana region, which has a population of roughly 266,000 people. The Dam is expected to hold up to 14.5 billion litres of water across a surface area of 140 hectares – a volume of water that should not only serve current demand but also increases over the next 30 years.

The construction of the dam was expected to start as soon as the bed of the Ludeke River was completely dry and the whole project is scheduled for completion in February 2013.

Water management of course goes hand in hand with environment issues like Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in the Witwatersrand area – a topic that has been the subject of much media attention, with the public expressing concern about the potential threat of post mine closure decant if remedial actions are not taken.

The need for urgent government action to address the AMD challenges, associated with the East, Central and West Rand underground mining basins, is acknowledged by the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) and the department has subsequently taken a number of steps to address the problem.

Emergency work was initially carried out to protect the respective Environmental Critical Levels (ECLs) in the Central and East Rand underground mining basins and to lower the water level in the West Rand underground mining basin; and neutralise and remove the heavy metals from the pumped underground mine water prior to it being released to surface water resources.

The next stage saw the formation of a Hydrological Monitoring Committee (HMC) – under the chairmanship of DWA, to monitor the re-watering and quality of mine water, in respect of the West, Central and East Rand underground mining basins. The Department has also undertaken an ongoing feasibility study to find a long-term solution to the problem of AMD – the findings are expected next February.

The study will focus on investigating possible management scenarios, an analysis of technical options, and optimal infrastructure configuration, as well as recommend suitable institutional and financial models and a suggested implementation plan to provide a sustainable long-term solution.

Reflecting the broad and diverse remit of the DWA, the Crocodile West River catchment area offers an entirely different set of challenges. It is one of the most developed river catchments in the country, characterised by the sprawling urban and industrial areas of northern Johannesburg and Pretoria, extensive irrigation downstream of Hartbeespoort Dam and large mining developments north of the Magaliesberg. As a result, the Crocodile River is one of the rivers in the country that has been most influenced by human activities, and where more specific water management strategies are of paramount importance to secure future water supplies.

In 2008 the Departmeny published its Water Reconciliation Strategy for the Crocodile West Water Supply System, which had a focus on the quantitative reconciliation of the requirements for and availability of water, with due consideration of water quality where it impacts on the reconciliation. Its main aim is to ensure sufficient and reliable supply of water of appropriate quality to all existing as well as future users, taking into account provision for the ecological Reserve.

deptofwater58731979Among the key objectives for the Strategy is the utilisation of local resources and urban return flows to support water users north of the Magaliesberg. It has been decided that water for urban and industrial use in the area south of the Magaliesberg should continue to be supplied predominantly from the Vaal River system via Rand Water, while water for irrigation and rural users should be supplied from local sources.

Large quantities of water need to be transferred to the rapidly developing Lephalale area to augment the local resources there. These transfers can be sourced in part from the Crocodile River by using the surpluses available from return flows in the catchment, but further augmentation from the Vaal River system might also be needed to maintain a positive water balance in the Crocodile River catchment, when water is transferred from the Crocodile River to the Lephalale area.

Water quality management should focus on enforcement of effluent standards and the establishment of Resource Water Quality Objectives for all major streams and impoundments followed by the development and implementation of management options towards achieving.

The DWA has made giant strides but has much more to do to preserve and improve upon South Africa’s water supplies. Awareness and cooperation are perhaps the most important contributions that the public can make and education will play an essential part to laying the foundations for better water management.

deptofwater7448314The Department is looking at innovative ways to improve water supplies and raising awareness and in August announced its Women in Water Awards for 2012. The Awards will take place during the Women’s Month and will be presented to groups of women, CBO, NGO that have best water related projects that are truly initiated and managed by women in municipalities. The awards serve as an honour to women of stature, who have excelled in their field and have made a significant contribution to the water sector in South Africa.

The awards will be in the form of funds intended for project support that it is hoped will further promote learning and understanding of how to preserve one of the nation’s most precious commodities.