By Regan Rose
South African policymakers are increasingly looking to our groundwater resources to strengthen and even alleviate pressure on existing surface water and supply infrastructure.
They are following the examples of countries, such as Denmark. Despite its high rainfall patterns, this country continues to develop its groundwater resources to ensure water security for all of its citizens.
This is considering that groundwater resources are less prone to evaporation than surface water resources, while providing a quicker and more cost-effective means of strengthening existing water supply.
There are many solid case studies of the successful use of these important reserves in the country.
They also reflect the expertise of government bodies in not only executing these projects, but also in maintaining and operating groundwater infrastructure.
Outstanding examples include those projects driven by the Department of Water and Sanitation.
The department invested heavily into state-of-the-art groundwater infrastructure and has transferred essential knowledge, as well as resources to municipalities to ensure their sustainability. Most of them have been operating for more than 20 years.
They feature cutting-edge technologies, such as telemetry – a growing trend in the groundwater industry – that allows for remote operation and trouble-shooting of the infrastructure.
Many custodians of the country’s water resources have also adopted a very pro-active stance in driving these projects.
For example, we have been helping a municipality in the Western Cape develop groundwater resources at sports complexes since 2012. This is long before the impacts of the drought were fully felt in the province.
However, I am concerned that a growing shortage of technical capability in public sector departments threatens to undo the tremendous work already achieved in the field.
The consequences of limited technical capacity are becoming increasingly evident in the early stages when projects are first awarded to companies.
Often, the onerous requirements of groundwater projects are being discounted, and being awarded to the lowest bidders that do not have the necessary skills or capacities.
There are many examples of projects that were awarded to service providers who were unable to realistically fulfil their obligations in the first place. These companies depleted their resources long before their contracts were completed.
This is to the detriment of the entire industry, including those companies that abide by strict and accepted norms and standards, as well as rates that they are allowed to charge for their professional services.
I believe that the larger issue needs to be addressed within the groundwater fraternity at the Groundwater Association of KwaZulu-Natal meetings. It can also be introduced to other provinces to ensure widespread success of groundwater projects.
The shortage of technical skills is also evident in limited water monitoring practices at some municipal groundwater operations.
Having the ability to identify a decline of the water level or deterioration of the water quality well in advance is a critical proactive measure that will help avoid failure of the infrastructure.
The capability to analyse and interpret data, therefore, needs to be strengthened and incorporated into the daily operation of the infrastructure.
Groundwater still remains an extremely under-utilised resource in South Africa. This is despite the immense potential role it is able to play in future water planning in the country.
It has taken time for trusted experts in the field, such as JG Afrika, to change decision-makers’ negative perceptions of this resource.
This is considering the failure of many of these projects that were not undertaken on a scientific and technical basis.
It is therefore essential that all stakeholders work closely to ensure the success of these projects, and to continue bringing this hidden resource to the fore.
Regan Rose is an executive associate of JG Afrika. This highly experienced geo-hydrologist is the founder of Geowater IQ, which was acquired by JG Afrika earlier this year. Rose has been at the forefront of many successful projects, including the often-cited groundwater project that yielded 40 000 l of water an hour in the extremely dry Beaufort West, Western Cape.
By Regan Rose
JG Afrika has witnessed significant growth in demand for groundwater projects from the private sector.
This can be attributed to the many successful related initiatives in the country that continue to highlight the important role that this resource can play in helping achieve water security.
Professional geo-hydrologists continue to work closely with their discerning clients right from the outset in the early planning stages of these projects.
This approach has ensured a sustainable outcome that is especially mirrored by the successes of large-scale groundwater projects in the public sector.
I have been involved in many of them, including the often-cited groundwater project that produced 40 000 l of water an hour in the extremely dry Beaufort West, Western Cape.
It complements a host of successful projects that JG Afrika has also helped deliver for its clients who insist on working only with known experts in the field who have proven technical and scientific groundwater capability.
Yet, there are still situations where private property owners have bypassed the critical preliminary study stages of these initiatives in an attempt to save costs.
This is a very short-sighted approach that unfortunately continues to lead to very costly mistakes without seeing a drop of water.
It is, therefore, important that I reiterate the critical role that geo-hydrologists play in helping avoid the ‘classic’ mistakes that are still being made by private landowners.
The skills and experience of geo-hydrologists are deployed to find suitable water and these capabilities guide drilling contractors in bringing it to surface.
Contracting firms, on the other hand, provide an expert drilling solution, and they charge for every metre that they drill.
Sound upfront planning will ensure that drilling contractors are not appointed before knowing that there is sufficient water to sustain projects.
It will also provide the client with a better understanding of the expected borehole yield for specific purposes, especially if large scale abstraction is envisaged, such as irrigation.
There have also been instances where contractors and their clients have had little or no understanding of the geological and geo-hydrological conditions prior to commencing drilling operations.
This has led to an inability to challenge rock formations with existing equipment, or over-drilling at an unnecessary additional cost to the client.
Unfortunately, these failures undermine the efforts of credible industry participants who continue to prove that groundwater resources are more than just a supplement to existing surface water infrastructure.
The resource has a larger role to play in strengthening and even alleviating pressure on existing surface water and supply infrastructure. This is considering that groundwater resources are less prone to evaporation than surface water resources. These projects also provide a quicker and more cost-effective means of strengthening the country’s existing water supply.
JG Afrika’s team of go-hydrologists look forward to continuing to work with private sector players in helping them find a sustainable supply of water – a critical, but increasingly scarce resource in many areas of the country that are still at the mercy of the drought.
Regan Rose is an executive associate of JG Afrika. This highly experienced geo-hydrologist is the founder of Geowater IQ, which was acquired by JG Afrika earlier this year. The merger has strengthened JG Afrika’s own offering to its public- and private-sector clients. Rose is also looking forward to more meaningful participation in the ongoing development of the country’s groundwater resources. This drive has already gained greater momentum since he gained access to the wealth of experience and resources available in the JG Afrika group.
By Mark Scapers
Groundwater remains a hidden and unnoticed resource that does not get implemented according to guidelines and legislated criteria.
By Tim Davidson
It is imperative that South African policymakers continue to prioritise renewable energy in future power planning, considering the major strides the country has already made in the field. I am, therefore, encouraged by the earlier announcements by national government that large-scale “green” energy projects are still on the developmental agenda.
This announcement was also very favourably received by other participants in both the global and international renewable energy industry. It has provided the necessary reassurance of the rollout of the next phases of the REIPPP.
Under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme, or REIPPP, South Africa has become a leading investment destination on the continent for European renewable energy technology specialists.
We have worked with many of them in various capacities on prominent solar and wind projects under this programme.
I can attest to their global experience, which has been instrumental in helping South Africa introduce important clean and sustainable energy to its national grid, which still relies heavily on fossil fuels.
Importantly, there has also been significant scope for skills transfer between both South African and international players in the implementation stages of these projects. Both European and South African participants underwent a very steep, but critical learning curve during the earlier phases of the programme.
These were important lessons that have led to further, stronger linkages between international technology companies and local developers, as well as their professional teams. This bodes well for future planning and execution of sustainable energy projects in South Africa. We can only expect smoother implementation of these projects moving forward, starting with the much-anticipated fourth window of the REIPPP.
This window offers immense opportunity for the country to build on its “green” energy development agenda. This is considering that it involves 26 preferred bidders across a host of clean energy generation technologies, and represents R50-billion in investment into South Africa.
Importantly, it also mirrors the rich diversity of fuel sources available to South African energy planners to sufficiently diversify the country’s energy mix.
For example, this window introduces more biomass to the country’s national grid, complementing the major steps South Africa has already taken in developing its capacities in solar and wind in the earlier stages of the REIPPP.
This includes those projects using wood-waste to produce electricity, or other forms of energy. JG Afrika has already engaged with Scandinavian investors and developers of this important base-load power. These international experts in the field have identified a lot of future potential for biomass in the country, considering South Africa’s own developed and sophisticated forestry industry.
We have gained a head-start in this maturing waste-to-gas market, complementing our already proven capability in solar and wind projects in various capacities.
Keep in mind our extensive involvement in the first large-scale waste-to-energy plant in Africa that started operating in Athlone, Western Cape, earlier this year.
I remain extremely proud of our past involvement in helping South Africa secure a sustainable future that is in line with the growing international “green” consciousness.
JG Afrika looks forward to increased involvement in these projects in the country and in other Southern African Economic Development Community countries which are using the REIPPP as blueprint for harnessing their own huge “green” energy resources.
Tim Davidson is a technical director of JG Afrika, and participated in a host of milestone renewable energy projects in the country. Some of these include !Khi Solar One, KaXu Solar One CSP power stations , De Aar and Droogfontein photovoltaic farms, as well as Noblesfontein, Metrowind and Kouga wind farms under the REIPPP banner.