New Challenges, New Approaches, New Technologies

New Challenges, New Approaches, New Technologies

Within the Western Cape Province of South Africa, current water supply levels are at a depressingly low average of 35%, after what is considered the rainy season.

For the last two years, the City of Cape Town has officially recorded its lowest rainfall period in 100 years (http://www.csag.uct.ac.za/current-seasons-rainfall-in-cape-town/).  This has sharpened the focus on short, medium and long term solutions to address water security, given the exposed vulnerability of current and what some would argue, out dated systems, planning tools and governance structures. The ability to effectively deliver on the medium to long term solutions is questionable.

It is recognized that this phenomenon is not isolated to this particular region, with many others claiming droughts of similar magnitude or sharper decreases compared to average rainfall figures (http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/climate-change/a-parched-australia-suffers-through-its-driest-ever-start-to-spring/news-story/fa667d3f9b09d8883a0482cf4b7b6f24). The impact of changing weather patterns across the globe has greatly emphasised the new challenges we are likely to experience on a more frequent basis.

Following a recent conference, I was exposed to what new really means in this context, being that a change in our approach to Nutrients, Energy, and Water (NEW) is needed to build resilience and deliver sustainable living conditions. For much of the developed world this has been well understood and slowly but surely entrenched in relevant policy, translating to funding for ongoing research and development. However, a different scenario is playing out for the developing regions of the world, where simple fundamentals and aspects of basic human rights remain a challenge especially in the context of food, energy and water. Furthermore, the solutions derived in the context of a developed world often provide challenges for replication or even adaptation in the developing world, be it capex, opex, skills availability, supporting infrastructure etc. There is, to this end, a global shift in understanding, where a more partnership-driven approach is being taken to finding solutions between developed and developing regions. Ultimately however, the need is for locally developed, contextually relevant research, technologies and skills to be developed as a foundation upon which real change and action can take place. Couple this with the growing movement of more integrated, trans-disciplinary approaches and developing regions run the risk of remaining behind if investment is not targeted to build the capacity needed.

In recognizing these challenges, the Western Cape Government has undertaken to address the needs of new approaches through the development of the Water Hub. The concept proposes a dedicated facility in which research will be focussed on new technologies, methodologies and processes to address resilience and water security. In order to effect the change required, a foundation must be built on an understanding through empirical scientific research linked to policy development and regulatory frameworks, which places sustainable, water sensitive development at its core. Following on from the research, the development of new technologies through the Water Hub provides an exciting platform in that, technologies can systematically be scaled up through the facility from laboratory to piloting phase. The facility is to be built on a decommissioned waste water treatment works, with access to ‘real world’ storm water, an impacted urban stream and even waste water influent and effluent to undertake piloting of scaled technology development in a controlled environment. The research into water, will include aspects of water management within the food (urban agriculture), energy (biofuels) and water nexus. Following the development of new technologies, methodologies and processes the need for relevant skills becomes paramount for sustained action and enact change. Therefore, the Water Hub will also aim to deliver on skills development to ensure those within the sector are practically able to develop skills alongside evolving technologies.

The fact that water is so much of daily life, presents an opportunity to be able to better engage with the general public. For example, the impact of a drought, and floods for that matter, bring with it a greater amount of public attention. It is as a result of this, that one gets a true sense of the illiteracy of the public when it comes to the management of water. The Water Hub will also provide the opportunity to educate and raise awareness on the management of water, with the opportunity to engage researchers and to understand the processes involved. An interactive centre, such as the NEWater Visitor Centre, in Singapore, has successfully achieved greater awareness around water re-use and water management generally. The Water Hub aims to also provide information on relevant water technologies (e.g. greywater re-use systems for households), provide practical D.I.Y workshops for simple water saving installations and provide access to information on appropriate technologies and systems to consider within green building practices. With this in mind, the development of the site will allow for the ability to demonstrate these varying technologies, enabling improved understanding and a sense of scale and practicality for the integration into existing and new building developments.

The Water Hub demonstrates an ambitious step in taking the initiative to develop locally based solutions, which effectively address and are relevant to the water challenges being faced by developing regions. Through the promotion of transdisciplinary approaches it is hoped to deliver a water secure future through achieving medium and long term solutions as a result of the Water Hub.

If you are interested in being involved with this exciting initiative visit www.thewaterhub.org.za, like the page on Facebook or email: Jason.Mingo@weserncape.gov.za.