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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality could be subjected to water outages

DR ANDRE HEFER|

As one of the largest institutions in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, Nelson Mandela University is on a water emergency and sustainability drive to address the looming Day Zero crisis.

The projections are that the four Summerstrand campuses and the Bird Street Campus in Central could be without water from the end of September 2021 or earlier.

Certain areas in the metro could be subjected to water outages as early as July 2021.

At great but necessary cost to Mandela University, the institutional water management and risk mitigation plan has been accelerated. The plans, upscaled from June last year, are well into the implementation phase.

These plans are predominantly focused on the Summerstrand campuses (Ocean Sciences, North, South and Second Avenue) as these are situated in an area classified as a red zone for municipal water supply.

At full capacity, the university’s total water usage across all its campuses is 1.5 megalitres or 1.5-million litres per day during peak periods. Up to 70% of this usage is on the South Campus.

During this Covid-19 period, there are 18,000 students and approximately 2,500 staff members on the North and South campuses. This includes 3,500 students living on campus residences.

The residences are 97% full as many of the students who live in circumstances that are not conducive to online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, applied to return to campus.

READ: Unflushed toilets threaten children’s health at Langa High School

The university is doing everything it can to ensure that students and staff will continue to enjoy a supply of water come Day Zero.

A water emergency management team comprising water scientists and technical support staff, that works closely with the municipal disaster management command centre and the Business Chamber water task team has been constituted.

Emergency management measures are being implemented along with a comprehensive water awareness campaign to bring our students and staff on board and ensure they actively assist in reducing water consumption on campus and curtail any wasting of water.

In anticipation of the progressive and drastic reduction of supply, a three-prong water emergency management strategy has been implemented on the campuses since last month.

The strategy, which includes the use of technology, source diversification and user adaptation solutions, is intended not only to mitigate negative impacts of the current drought but also advance the ongoing institutional sustainability drive.

The technical team is working hard to increase the storage capacity of critical buildings and residences that do not have emergency water reserves. Most buildings already have some storage tanks and an additional 95 x 5,000l water tanks have been purchased to be installed at critical areas across our campuses.

These efforts build on the 36 meters and electronic readers already installed at student residences on the North, South and the 2nd Avenue campuses. Three bulk meters were also installed on South Campus, as well as electronic remote readers. An additional 58 meters for all other South Campus buildings are currently being installed.

Also being explored is the installation of flow restrictors on the taps while also replacing the flushing mechanisms of toilets to a cistern-less system using flush valves. These valves are expensive to install but are very hard-wearing and long-lasting. They flush directly from the water supply, using up to half the water of a cistern system. By mid-August 150 flush valves would have been installed on the South Campus.

READ: Day Zero: Sadtu accuses Premier Helen Zille of delaying water plan announcement

The sport fields historically accounted for about 20% of total water use on the Summerstrand campuses. The university is now buying water (at R2.20 per kl as opposed to R17 per kl for potable municipal water) for its sport fields and gardens from the Cape Recife Waste Water Treatment Works which generates quality return effluent (RE) water to a treatment standard that is safe for irrigation, which if not used would go into the ocean.

Some 1.7Ml of RE water per day can be extracted and stored in a recently built 1.3Ml holding dam.

The new residences will use alternative water sources for flushing toilets and urinals. Two existing residences are already using RE and two more will do so by year end.

RE is a massive solution for universities, big businesses and operations in the Metro and beyond, as toilet flushing accounts for approximately one-third of all water usage per day. It’s criminal to use potable water for this purpose.

Two boreholes linked to the North Campus and Sanlam Residence Village residences, have been drilled. They are achieving a good yield of 80,000-100,000 litres per day. The university is exploring adding boreholes on Missionvale and Second Avenue Campuses.

However, with approximately 150 boreholes drilled over the past two years across the metro, institutions and residences need to be mindful of the negative impact boreholes can have on groundwater reserves.

It is generally accepted that user adaptation is one of the highest impacts and cheapest approaches, and the university has significantly stepped up its water awareness campaign on campus and among students and staff.

The awareness campaign includes close consultation with students on the proposed emergency water management solutions. Every single member of the university community needs to play their part since if the institution runs out of water, students and staff would have to return and stay home. Needless to say, this would be disastrous for the academic project.

Dr Andre Hefer is a Sustainability Engineer at the Nelson Mandela University.

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