A school in drought-stricken Cape Town has reduced its water use by more than 90% and will continue working with JG Afrika to further mitigate its reliance on a strained municipal water-supply system.
The leading firm of consulting engineers and environmental scientists commenced work on the first phase of the school’s water-management project in November 2017 and completed it in December that year.
Initial measurements of the success of the water-saving interventions were undertaken between January and March 2018.
Already exceeding initial expectations, a further decision was taken by the school board to work with JG Afrika in rolling out similar programmes at its two other learning institutions in Cape Town.
Benjamin Biggs, a civil engineer and urban water-management specialist at JG Afrika, has been involved in the project since the baseline assessments were undertaken at the school. He will also participate in the larger rollout of water-saving interventions at the other institutions.
Biggs says that it is important to first focus on reducing water use before looking to supplement municipal supply with alternative sources.
“We were able to implement immediate measures at the school that would yield outstanding results early on. Our experience in several other projects has demonstrated that this upfront work can play an important role in mitigating, or even eliminating the need for more costly and longer-term measures,” he says.
Importantly, this step also helps drive changes in water-use behaviour in a water-scarce country, and Biggs compliments the client for the proactive efforts already taken to use water efficiently before it implemented a larger demand-side management programme.
About 400 people, including educators, administrative staff and students participated in the initiative, starting with basics such as flushing toilets sparingly and reporting water leakages.
JG Afrika saved an additional 80% to the already low drought use by focusing on reducing high-use applications at the school.
These interventions were selected based on the findings of the baseline assessment, which combined historical information including utility bills, as well as physical inspections of the plumbing fixtures and equipment.
The outcome was used to model water flows to understand end-use quantities for various applications and determine the site water balance, which is the flow of water in and out of a system. This allowed JG Afrika to identify high impact areas to address and assess possible solutions to reduce municipal water use on campus.
Prior to the programme, the school sourced as much as 1 064 kl/month from the municipality, with up to 70% of this water used to flush toilets in the ablution blocks.
As part of the first phase of the programme, all toilet flushing devices were replaced with water-saving mechanisms, and similar interventions were taken at other existing plumbing fixtures, including leaking washbasin taps.
As part of this full turnkey service, JG Afrika works closely with select installers and plumbers, which were placed on standby during the baseline studies to ensure swift turnaround times.
Moreover, all of the water-saving technologies deployed in the programme have been tried and tested by the team of water experts at the JG Afrika office.
These include the mechanisms that facilitate a quick and cost-effective means of retrofitting existing toilets to provide immediate water savings of up to 60%. This is in addition to the aerators that are used to limit flows through the taps, reducing water use from 10-15 l/min to only 1 l/min in bathrooms.
Another technology implemented in many of the initial phases of JG Afrika’s other projects is low-flow showerheads that provide as much as a 50% reduction in water use without forgoing the comfort of conventional fittings.
“We first ensure that we have identified all of the available so-called ‘low-hanging fruits’ available to us. Importantly, many of these technologies can be installed without having to make any major refurbishments to an existing building and can therefore be installed at a minimal cost to the client. This is a major consideration for JG Afrika on all of its water-management projects,” Biggs says.
The next phase of the programme will entail installing a rainwater-harvesting system with treatment at the school. Water tanks are used to store harvested rainwater where after is it treated and pumped for use in applications, such as toilet flushing, irrigation and topping up the swimming pool.
Combined with those actions undertaken during the first phase, the system will reduce the school’s reliance on municipal water supplies by up to 95%.
This strategy is in line with JG Afrika’s approach of first reusing all available water on site before abstracting from the groundwater aquifers.
The entire system can be installed in less than a month and therefore, can be operational ahead of the wet winter period in the Western Cape.
Depending on rainfall levels and irrigation requirements in summer, the school may pursue a third phase that will allow for water savings in excess of 95%. This entails installing a borehole on site to replenish stores of harvested water in the tanks.
The combined three phases will result in cost-savings of R150 000 per year under drought water restrictions and R450 000 per year under pre-drought conditions, while the school will be able to recuperate its investment in three years.
While cost savings have provided a major incentive for pursuing sustainable practices in the past, the severe arid conditions in many parts of the country have played a large part in motivating the importance of water management.
Biggs says that demand-side management (DSM) projects are now being viewed as a necessity, similar to those energy-efficiency programmes that were implemented during previous periods of load-shedding in South Africa.
Moreover, it has elevated the importance of water in sustainability programmes. In the past, water, energy and waste management were often undertaken in isolation of one another.
“Water is now being treated as a resource, as opposed to only a right by responsible South Africans. At the same time, policymakers have realised the need to explore solutions that provide the resilience they need for drought periods such as these. This is demonstrated by new policies and legislation in Cape Town that promote decentralised alterative supply systems to augment centralised infrastructure that do not have the flexibility to cater to increases in demand, or arid climates,” he says.
Biggs reports to both the municipal infrastructure and sustainability divisions of JG Afrika’s Cape Town operations. Headed by Chris Wise and Sally-Anne Käsner, these divisions continue to experience a high demand for their combined skills and capabilities.
JG Afrika’s key differentiator is its multi-disciplinary skills and capabilities that has allowed for a multi-disciplinary approach to water-management. This is applied on all of the company’s projects that span single buildings through to large university campuses and towns.
Each site is unique, and the experts’ water-sensitive designs consider all of the various components of the urban-water cycle, as opposed to the isolated approach taken on so many water-management programmes in the past.
This is also in line with the firm’s focus on providing a diverse source of supply and, in so doing, increasing resilience.
Emphasis is also placed on matching the quality of the water to suitable applications. Biggs says that this is also a significant departure from traditional thinking in South Africa where high-quality drinking water is still being used to flush toilets and for irrigation purposes.
In addition to working closely with academic institutions to apply the latest theoretical studies in practice, JG Afrika’s team of experts applies extensive experience and learning as well as using insights from international best practice, in its designs. This includes experience from countries, such as the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Singapore, which all have policies and regulations in place that guide the efficient use of their water resources.
Biggs says that he is also proud of the part that JG Afrika has played in its own DSM programme at its office in Pinelands.
“We practice what we preach,” says Biggs. “As early as 2011, JG Afrika implemented in its own DSM programme at its office in Pinelands, and weekly readings confirm that we have reduced our water consumption by nearly 70% simply by installing low-flow taps and showers, waterless urinals and efficient toilets and irrigation. We will be taking further steps in the short-term to enhance this performance.”
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