Rundown of WPC breakaways

By Fiona Ingham

The 11th World Plumbing Council Conference broke with tradition: four breakaway sessions were held in which various speakers thrashed out pertinent issues that had been grouped under the themes of energy, sanitation, environment, and water.

Breakaway session: energy

John Joseph, principal consultant and managing director at John Mech-El Technologies in Mumbai, India, chaired the three sessions on energy. He said that the major point that surfaced from the discussions is that energy conservation implies resource conservation. For that reason, the primary focus should be on resource conservation. Joseph pointed out that the sessions tended not to focus on the behavioural changes of energy and water consumers, but on the technology. 

Product manager at Wavin in the Netherlands, Albert Alferink, shared his experiences in Brazil in promoting better water, wastewater, and energy management. Alferink spoke about the training of professionals, applying efficient technologies, new technology, research into new technology, and energy efficient products. He also talked about scaling this technology up to application at international levels.  

District head of water and sanitation, Ian Isaacs, and senior professional officer of water and sanitation at the City of Cape Town, Clyde Koen, covered the topic of water conservation, specifically the water and demand management programme being developed in the City of Cape Town. Koen described groundbreaking techniques used in Cape Town, such as the smoke detectors for detecting leakages or contaminations, cross connections, and robotic CCTV inserted into pipelines that travel through the pipelines to detect fat formations or leaks.

The executive director at Abrinstal & Newman (Brazil) and vice-chair of ISO Technical Committee 310, Dr Alberto Fossa, spoke about the energy efficiency policy and energy management standards related to sustainable access to water and sanitation. He said that historically, efforts to improve water and energy efficiency have been separated, and that there were two aspects to consider: supply and demand, and doing more and better with less.

Fossa warned that current practices will lead to a massive and unsustainable gap between global supply and demand. Reducing water use and effects through resource efficiency should be at the top of the list for every energy and water planner as well as a focus for policymakers everywhere.

He pointed out that water and/or energy efficiency improvements with very favourable payback periods often do not get implementedbecause of other priorities. Even those that are implemented may not be sustained due to a lack of supportive operational/maintenance practices.

Fossa made the point that commissioning or re-commissioning new equipment or systems only addresses a point in time,and that the only constant in the life of most infrastructure and facilities is change. He said that water energy efficiency is not integrated into the daily management of our organisations and our lives, which is problematic. He said the solution was that people and organisations need to be engaged in managing water and energy continuously.

Breakaway session: sanitation

Programme officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sun Kim, chaired the sessions on sanitation. Lawrence Benatar from Benatar Consulting presented on the topic of various configurations of drainage systems and the design of waterless urinals. Interestingly, waterless urinals have a benefit of not using water, but that reduction of water — along with the reduced flow of faucets and showers besides other conservation means — creates other problems, since sewer systems have been designed for a certain flow rate to convey wastewater and waste effectively. Benatar also spoke about the antiquated regulations in South Africa and the need to update them.

Executive manager water use and waste management at the Water Research Commission, Jay Bhagwan, made the point that sanitation constitutes 60% of capital cost of water services. Kim said this was surprising, considering that UN sustainable development goal number six is about water and sanitation — people should have access to this human right. People focus on water and not sanitation, but if you don’t take care of sanitation the water is contaminated and disease results. Sanitation needs to be repaired, along with having your water supply. Bhagwan said many people talked about innovation and research, and agreed that we really do need transformational technologies for the future.

Other points Bhagwan made were that water resources are declining, energy costs are rising, and about 55% of energy used in the water cycle is for wastewater treatment. The bulk of this energy is for aeration in biological processes, accounting for upwards of 60% of total energy consumption. Current sanitation technologies are not sustainable — it is problematic that society is conditioned into seeing a flush toilet and centralised sewage treatment works as preferred options. Another concern was that stormwater is regarded as a nuisance rather than a resource.

International business development director at Polypipe, Jonathan Cooper, spoke on heavy concrete, copper tubing, cast iron, and a move towards composite plastics and other innovative products that are lighter, cheaper to make, less wasteful and less likely to be stolen, as copper tubing often is. Cooper discussed the reality of having thousands of product lines and the cost of certifying those product lines for entry into any one country and having to re-certify the same thing repeatedly. Steve White, technical director at Studor, covered high-rise venting and exploding toilets.

A theme to emerge from the presentations of these four speakers is the importance of transformation: coming up with new ways of doing the essentials of providing water and safe sanitation, and the importance of properly applying regulations and standards.

To conquer the problems we face in the developing world we have to develop new solutions. These are not the same solutions that were used to advance the now-developed world. “We really need to come up with a new road map, and that is where I believe innovation and implementation will be key,” said Kim.

Breakaway session: environment

Erwin Reisch, chief executive officer of Stuttgart-based publishing house Gentner Verlag, chaired the sessions on the environment. Water and Sanitation R&D officer from the City of Cape Town, Nina Viljoen, spoke on “Access to water and sanitation services within informal settlements in the City of Cape Town: towards improvement and adaptation”. Those who suffer the brunt of water scarcity are the urban poor, said Viljoen. Cities cannot be sustainable without ensuring reliable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Coping with the growing needs of water and sanitation services within cities is one of the most pressing issues of this century. Sustainable, efficient and equitable management of water in cities has never been as important as in today’s world.

In terms of the status of water and sanitation service provision within the City of Cape Town, the Support Programme for Accelerated Infrastructure Development (SPAID) (2009) ranked Cape Town the very best in terms of citizens’ access to services. Viljoen also noted that the City has put in place an Indigent Policy. 

Citizens recognise the quality of Cape Town’s administration, according to 2006 annual reports. The City’s accountability is enhanced by the use of state-of-the-art information technology. The City’s call centre answers over a million calls each year, all in the customer’s choice of language, Viljoen said.

Principal water inspector at the City of Cape Town, Aidan Veldsman, covered the topic “Therole of regulations for sustainable plumbing, as well as the role of plumbing design and installation”. The main theme was therole that plumbing regulations, innovation, design, and installation methods play in ensuring the human right of access to safe water and sanitation infrastructure within the framework of the UN resolution post-2015. 

Veldsman said the City of Cape Town regulations and by-laws are passed by councils to regulate the affairs and the services that councils provide within their areas of jurisdiction. Water wastage reduction requires the local authority to respond rapidly to infrastructure failures, as well as to conduct preventative maintenance and public awareness initiatives, such as ongoing media drives. Minimising stormwater infiltration into the sewer system puts undue load on the filtration plant’s capacity, he noted.

Another issue he touched on was that of installing free phones in communities so that those reporting leaks can do so free of charge.

Managing director of SA Leak Detection Distributors, Deon Pohorille, spoke on the topic of leak detection and various sized robots that travel through pipes. Much of the technology is manufactured in South Africa and can be used successfully. SA Leak Detection Distributors has expanded its presence and now conducts leak detection worldwide. Pohorille presented a case from Kenya and another from New Orleans, US, where their processes are monitored from Cape Town. This advanced technology is highly efficient and it serves the purpose of leak detection in saving money. 

John Telford from Calcamite in Pretoria reported on the “Conservation of water and adding and recycling water”. He presented several state-of-the-art ways on how to conserve water, how to add to the water supply, and how to recycle. He also explored the topic of greywater and blackwater recycling. Telford then presented an example of an off-grid system, which has been installed in Diepsloot in Johannesburg and is powered by solar.

Breakaway session: water

The sessions on water were chaired by Plumbers Without Borders president, Domenico DiGregorio.

DiGregorio gave an account of how vice-chair of the body, Fred Schilling, travelled to Haiti to assist with community sanitation. Schilling had been struck by the fact that no sewer system or other infrastructure whatsoever is in place, and implored improvements to be made within that context. US manufacturer American Standard partnered with Plumbers Without Borders to help promote the Safe Toilet (SaTo™) pan, resulting in American Standard shipping 8 000 of these pans into Haiti and so the first retrofit took place in the earthquake devastated Caribbean country. This has since had an amazing effect on the health of Haiti’s population of about 10 million people. Only two million of their people have access to any kind of sanitation at all.  

Evert Swanepoel from the Copper Development Association Africa discussed the anti-microbial effects of copper as it relates to cleaning water. He focused on rural water supply, rivers and boreholes, as well as rainwater harvesting. Water reticulation in rural Africa is non-existent, as it is in many developing countries, such as India. Rural communities obtain their water from rivers often polluted by animals, people, or poorly maintained water treatment plants upstream — this will not change in the short term. However, people in the rural areas of India have been storing contaminated water in copper pots for ages, and after leaving it in the pots for 16 hours, all harmful pathogens are killed and the water is left drinkable. Swanepoel explained the conditions needed to remove all pathogens from water when using a copper rod. Adapting the copper device principle to cleaning water in rainwater tanks is being researched, he continued. Laboratory tests have proved that copper kills pathogens in drinking water, but a fail-safe system to harness this remarkable property of copper still has to be introduced, Swanepoel said.

Chair ofthe British Plumbing Employers Council (BPEC), George Thomson, spoke on the topic “Doing a lot with a little: connecting plumbing with communities in need”. This small body, based in the Midlands (UK), is governed by a board of volunteer directors. BPEC is a certification body and a supplier of training materials. Its focus is on raising the standards of plumbing in the UK and elsewhere.BPEC’s key role has always been about standards, skills, and training in the industry. BPEC is unlike most organisations, as its surplus funds are reinvested in the plumbing industry through its charity. “We don’task for any donations,” Thomson said.

The Life Award has funded projects across the world, raising the standards of plumbing to bring about real and sustainable improvements. Since 2012, the Life Award has supported different projects in the UK and elsewhere. More than GBP130 000 of funding has been provided to support projects overseas and across the UK. The average amount of funding provided per project is about GPB5 000–10 000. This is a relatively small amount of money, but the difference it can make is huge, he said. “An awful lot can be achieved with relatively little funding,” said Thomson.


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