Preparing for future challenges
AECOM dams and hydropower lead , Danie Badenhorst , says South Africa needs to prepare better for future water-related challenges . By Martin Czernowalow
While South Africa is experiencing its worst drought — with limited rainfall expected during the summer season — we cannot point fingers and have to ask ourselves , could we have prepared better ?
This is according to Danie Badenhorst , dams and hydropower lead at AECOM , who recently won the Engineer of the Year award at the 2016 SAICE-SAFCEC Civil Engineering Awards . He was honoured for a 40-year career during which he has worked on more than 120 dam projects in Africa .
“ But can we prepare better for the future ? Yes , of course . We have to start at a grass roots level where every citizen in South Africa takes responsibility for how they use water in light of the challenge ,” he says .
“ We have to get back to the very basics of educating ourselves and our children on how to save water and take the educational media available out there that can help us very seriously .”
Badenhorst says the ongoing drought is placing pressure on the country ’ s already stretched water resource , with five municipalities in the Western Cape declared disaster areas in November .
“ This is indeed a serious challenge . To mitigate the effects of the drought on water users , the Department of Water and Sanitation has spent over R500-million on emergency and short-term interventions in KwaZulu-Natal , Mpumalanga , Limpopo , the Free State , North West Province , Eastern Cape , Western Cape and Northern Cape .
“ Further , the recovery plan by government involves turning off water supply in certain areas between specific time periods . This allows sufficient time for the water levels in the water reservoirs and water towers to recover so that water can again be supplied .”
Badenhorst warns that South Africa needs to continue prioritising water demand management ; surface water resource management , such as the optimised operation of the Vaal River system ; and groundwater resource management .
“ In light of this situation , now more than ever , South Africa needs to highly prioritise the maintenance and rehabilitation of its infrastructure , particularly for its dams . Yes , South Africa has developed a large percentage of its water resources and there will be limited dam developments in the future .
“ However , we need to look after our multibillion-rand dams . To do this , we need highly developed skills , particularly for rehabilitation , which is often more difficult than constructing a new dam . SANCOLD and ICOLD ( International Committee on Large Dams ) resources are in place to assist with such skills and information transfer ,” he points out .
Badenhorst notes that apart from the drought , the biggest challenge facing South Africa in relation to water infrastructure is the growing gap between water supply and demand . Therefore , the management of water resources and supply is essential to the development of South Africa ’ s economic growth , he says , adding that a highly skilled talent pool of individuals can take South Africa ’ s water sector forward .
He points to a McKinsey & Company ’ s base-case scenario , which says : “ Estimated demand for water in South Africa will reach 17.7 billion cubic metres in 2030 . Current supply , by contrast , will equal only 15 billion cubic metres and is severely constrained by low levels of highly seasonal rainfall ( about 50 % of the world average ), insufficient aquifers , and a dependency on water transfers between basins and from other countries ( for example , South Africa purchases nearly 25 % of its total water supply from nearby Lesotho ).”
“ I want to mention a quote from a publication called In the footsteps of giants – exploring the history of South Africa ’ s large dams : ‘ South Africa is home to some of the leading dam builders in the world , and many engineering innovations were developed here ’.
38 Water Sewage & Effluent January / February 2017