Getting to #SurplusWater2025

By Gerrie Brink, BEng (UP), MMCC (DMR), MBA (USB)c

Water is a finite resource and cannot be created. The volume of Water is a finite resource and cannot be created. The volume of water on the planet is fixed and undergoes a continuous cycle — the natural water cycle.

 In the words of Professor Anthony Turton (2012), “Water is a flux moving in time and space. In fact, we have the same volume on our planet today as we had when the dinosaurs roamed free 65 million years ago.”In the words of Professor Anthony Turton (2012), “Water is a flux moving in time and space. In fact, we have the same volume on our planet today as we had when the dinosaurs roamed free 65 million years ago.”

Human intervention or interference within this natural cycle, more often than not, disturbs the balance of this natural cycle. If this is not properly managed, it can have detrimental long-term effects on the water availability balance.

These human interventions/inventions/interferences include the following:consumption of more resources than required to sustain a lifestyle;excessive waste generation;ineffective wastewater treatment;pollution; andindustrial processes.

South Africa is the 30th-driest country on the planet, with an average annual rainfall of only 495mm. This is half the world average. Rainfall across South African regions ranges from 100mm in some parts of the country to 1 200mm in others (FAO, 2016). The country is classified as water scarce, with total annual renewable water resources (TARWR) of between 1 001 and 2 000m3 per capita (World Water Assessment Programme, 2012).

Various sources make predictions for South Africa, of moving into an extreme water-scarce country by 2025, with a direct impact on economic growth (WWF-SA, 2017). South Africa is a water-strained economy with a higher demand than can be supplied by existing infrastructure and water sources, and 98% of water is already allocated. This increasing demand is mainly due to deteriorating infrastructure, inefficiencies, and population growth. This argues that only by understanding the water consumption patterns, can we address increased demand due to inefficiencies.

Gathering the data

The scope for this specific data collection exercise focused specifically on water consumption at commercial office buildings. The configurations of these buildings vary from single-storey units to high-rise buildings, but the main contributors of water consumption remain fairly consistent and consist of toilets, canteens/kitchens, irrigation (where gardens are present and irrigated), cooling (evaporative systems), and cleaning services.

Of all the contributors to consumption, toilets are the highest-volume contributor of wastewater into the sewage system of a town or city. Due to the relatively low cost of water, compared to electricity and other services, and relatively high availability (to date), very little focus has been placed on the water component of property and business expenses. 

However, adding the consumption of a few buildings together, results in a significant amount. With cost structure differing from one municipality to another, the cost of water and effluent charges varies quite significantly across the different municipalities.

Data has been collected from more than 40 commercial buildings from June 2016 to date, by means of smart water meters and data loggers on the main incoming line of these buildings. These logger units take readings every 15 minutes and populate them into continuous flow profiles, indicating consumption patterns and flows. Interrogation of this data reveals valuable information with regard to consumption patterns, leaks, and contributing factors to total consumption of a building.

Factors that aggravate the state of water include population growth, high rate of urbanisation, and deteriorating infrastructure. Since 1996, the population has grown from 40.58 million people to 55.6 million in 2016 (Statistics South Africa, 2016): an increase of 15 million people in 20 years, with little upgrade to infrastructure. A large portion of this growth was in urban areas, due to normal growth as well as urbanisation.


With an increase in urban population, more people have access to clean water, hence an increase in demand. Due to deteriorating infrastructure, an estimated 37% of water is lost through leaks.

South Africa is facing an imminent water crisis, and everybody needs to do what they can to reduce their own water footprint. The cumulative efforts of individuals can make a significant impact, but there are a lot of potential savings in the commercial sector.

Since individuals are not responsible for paying for consumption at their place of employment, a lot of inefficiencies and waste occur: things like running air conditioning and lights in an empty building after hours, running irrigation systems while it is raining, leaking toilets, running taps, long showers, and negligent use of resources.

Figure 1: Example of a leak occurring on 23 February. It was identified due to monitoring, and the relevant people notified. This was rectified within 12 hours. If this flow had continued until it was picked up by a high water bill, millions of litres of water and thousands of rands would have been lost.

Figure 1: Example of a leak occurring on 23 February. It was identified due to monitoring, and the relevant people notified. This was rectified within 12 hours. If this flow had continued until it was picked up by a high water bill, millions of litres of water and thousands of rands would have been lost.

Figure 2: Concern was raised due to a high water bill, after which an AMR device was installed. A constant leak was identified by monitoring, and rectified within four days. After fixing, demand reduced by 95%. Without the AMR device, efforts to rectify would have been blind.

Figure 2: Concern was raised due to a high water bill, after which an AMR device was installed. A constant leak was identified by monitoring, and rectified within four days. After fixing, demand reduced by 95%. Without the AMR device, efforts to rectify would have been blind.


Case study

In December 2016, AQUAffection, a company involved with the #SurplusWater2025 initiative, started with the first project for Emira Property Fund, by following a simple approach:

  1. Understand the history of a building or site.
  2. Install an electronic water monitoring device/logger called an Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) device.
  3. Reduce consumption with efficiency and optimisation, and reduce waste.
  4. Install a municipal backup system designed to supply the reduced consumption.
  5. Supplement with alternative sources like rainwater and borehole water.
  6. Continuously monitor flow and consumption. 

One Highveld, a complex that offers industrial, commercial, and retail space, was the identified site for the case study located in Centurion, Pretoria. Following the aforementioned steps, we effectively reduced historic consumption by 73%.

This was achieved by managing incoming pressure, fixing leaks, and installing our patented toilet flushing mechanism in all the toilets. The interruptive flushing mechanism is a simple device that replaces the flushing mechanism in the toilet. When pushing down on the flushing handle or button, the system will only flush for as long as you hold it down. As soon as you release the handle, the flushing stops. This allows precisely the least amount of water required to clear the pan. The system holds enough water for multiple flushes from the cistern, but with the larger volumes always available when needed.

In an industrial or commercial setting, the savings from toilets can be as high as 66% and has been proven by various projects, including this specific project. This device — the Supa Flush Lite — is being rolled out by Dutton Plastics (DPE) and will be available for purchase from most major plumbing outlets.With the demand lowered and in control, a backup and rainwater harvesting system was implemented. Since the commissioning of the system in January 2017, close to 1 600kℓ of rainwater was supplied at potable water quality to the entire facility. This means that almost 25% of the total consumption was supplemented with filtered rainwater.

In the past two years, this site consumed the same volume of municipal water as it would have done in six months before the project — a total reduction in municipal water demand of close to 75%.

Following the success of the pilot project, AQUAffection was tasked by Emira Property Fund to roll out AMR devices to buildings across the country to identify possible leaks and inefficiencies and to rectify high consumption where possible.

Since May 2017, these AMR devices have been rolled out to the various buildings and the work commenced. Part of the initiative was to provide various service providers influencing water demand, with daily notifications if any inefficiency or leak occur within 24 hours of the occurrence.

This meant that no leak or toilets were left running for excessively long periods as in the past, as shown in Figure 2.

The result: Across all these buildings, a total water saving of 47 million litres was achieved through improved efficiencies and timeous reaction to rectify erratic spikes in consumption. Of this volume of saved water, more than four million litres were from harvested rainwater.The crucial component to the whole process is to monitor consumption — this not only identifies inefficiencies, but also creates awareness and a feedback tool to track progress. It provides for proactively sorting out issues that would have historically continued unchecked.

Conclusion

It is the opinion of the author, that to reduce future risks to general well-being and economic growth associated with water scarcity, every citizen of a country should do their utmost to monitor, reduce, and manage their own water demand. Whether it is at home, work, school or university, by improving efficiencies, pressure on water sources can be greatly reduced.

From a commercial perspective, there is not a lot to be done on the 37% water losses through the national infrastructure — that remains the responsibility of the government. But, a significant impact can be established by operating efficiently. 

From a domestic perspective, the financial incentive for reducing consumption is not that big, since the domestic consumer is more cost sensitive, with relatively low cost of water and generally low consumption. However, the same consumer, when at work, can easily disregard any water wastage, since the responsibility of paying for it does not lie with them. 

Reducing demand can therefore directly impact the following:

  • Bottom-line financial benefits for the end user (landlord and tenants).
  • Higher green building ratings (with devices installed to actively lower demand).Predictable water bill (identify and fix leaks within 24 hours, and not two to three months due to billing cycle) — no surprises.
  • The author would therefore recommend that awareness is actively created at the workplace, schools, and universities about the importance of water conservation practices. A leaking tap, for example, at a rate of one drop per second, will barely catch the eye of any passer-by. However, a leak at this rate equates to almost 12 litres per day, which is equivalent of the daily drinking water required for six people.

Water scarcity in South Africa is not a temporary problem. One good rainy season only lightens the load on the system for a short time but cannot permanently supply an ever-increasing demand.As was mentioned in the opening of this article: water cannot be created. Therefore, the volume of water we have, is the volume of water we will always have, and we subsequently need to look after it. Alternative sources will only be viable as a supplement to an efficiently run water-demand network. 

In short, lower consumption generates less waste, resulting in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) not running over their capacity. Government and municipalities save on reticulation cost (that can be used to maintain current infrastructure) and wastewater treatment. The end user saves money. The environment then recovers.

This is the foundation and whole objective of #SurplusWater2025 initiative: to get as many companies and people involved as possible from the private sector, institutions, and government, because our water security is everyone’s responsibility — and therefore everyone should be contributing to a collective success. 

The process of the #SurplusWater2025 concept.

The process of the #SurplusWater2025 concept.

ReferencesReferences

  • Brink, G.J., 2018. Aspects of inefficiencies in water consumption within commercial property in South Africa with a specific focus on toilets. Cape Town: University of Stellenbosch Business School.
  • FAO, 2016. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. [Online] Available at: http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/countries_regions/ZAF/index.stm [Accessed 4 January 2018].
  • WWAP (World Water Assessment Programme), 2012. The United Nations World Water Development Report 4: Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk. Paris: UNESCO.Statistics South Africa, 2016. Community Survey 2016,
  • Statistical release. Pretoria: Statistics South Africa.
  • Turton, A., 2012. A South African Perspective on Climate Change, Food Security and Water. New Delhi: University of Free State.

PA PlumbdrainLogo100 PlumbingOnline150 TP

Product of

IMD logo White

Interact Media Defined (IMD), is one of South Africa’s leading multi-media magazine publishers READ MORE

Talk to us

JHB T : +27 (0) 11 579 4940
CPT T : 0861 727 663
E : admin@interactmedia.co.za

13A Riley Road, Bedfordview,
South Africa 2007

PRIVACY & COOKIE POLICIES

Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy policy

© Interact Media Defined