A partnership between the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch Municipality and the Western Cape government is turning an abandoned water treatment facility in Franschhoek into a centre for water reuse research and innovation. The goal of The Water Hub, as the project has been named, is to demonstrate how effectively natural water systems can clean storm water runoff.
“One of the things that we’ve done badly across all of Africa… is to deal with the surface runoff,” said Kevin Winter, The Water Hub’s research director. In South Africa in particular, Winter said, these processes are especially lacking in informal settlements. “While these settlements have basic services of public tap stands, communal toilets and laundry stations, the drainage infrastructure is limited, often dysfunctional.”
Winter also said the project should be viewed as a pilot for larger operations aimed at both conserving water and cleaning it naturally. “Ideally, what one would probably have to do is centralise these kind of systems, because you want to treat at a bigger scale.”
Last week, researchers traveled to the site to collect the first round of treated water samples from the site. The first phase of the project involves taking water out of the river and running it through several pits filled with assorted materials to clean the water. “We are using media such as small stones, peach pips and plants to clean the water. Microbial organisms are being introduced to the system to clean the water without using chemicals,” Winter said.
Winter and his team will pump the water that would have otherwise been discarded into an adjoining wetland and eventually use it for on-site crop production. He plans to employ Langrug residents in the agricultural venture as well. “The business of food production is critical to providing work and opportunities. It will also stimulate education and further opportunities around tourism, park management and maintenance,” he said. “[Engaging] people productively in the project is key to building a strong connection between the Hub and the informal settlement.”
Upon its completion in 2022, in addition to a full-fledged storm water treatment facility, The Water Hub will also play host to public park space, exhibits, a research lab, restaurant, event space, reclaimed wetland, quarters for researchers, as well as aquaculture and algae ponds.
This initiative is part of the Future Water Institute, a transdisciplinary research institute addressing issues of water scarcity in South Africa largely through water sensitive design. It recognizes the importance of integrating technical, social, environmental and economic perspectives towards robust sustainable solutions. To this end the institute provides the space for discipline specialists as well as generalists across the faculties of Humanities, Law, Commerce, Health Science, Science and Engineering and the Built Environment to interact, develop co-learning and transdiscplinary approaches to address critical issues, holistically and together.
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