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Embracing and implementing technological solutions can improve South Africa’s water infrastructure and systems, which are currently in a “state of disarray”, says water treatment solutions company Watericon process engineer Pako Khutsoane.

The infrastructure is in “complete disorder”, owing to mismanagement, corruption and a lack of servicing and maintenance.

In addition to poor water quality, many South Africans do not have access to clean, potable water.

Consequently, the public is becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of services, says Khutsoane, who cites the example of the residents in the Kgetlengrivier region, in North West

Residents took control of the water and sewerage systems in December last year, after taking the local municipality to court because it was unable to supply clean drinking water and stop raw sewage from running into rivers in the area.

“A lot of the time, private homeowners, businesses, and the public have to take it on themselves to find solutions to the water issues that South Africa is facing. We have also seen in certain areas that inadequate treatment plants are being shut down or are left incomplete,” says Khutsoane.

There are many avenues that need to be addressed in resolving the state of the water infrastructure, such as eliminating corruption, appointing capable and skilled companies to take over projects and plants, and considering public–private partnerships for the upgrading of plants, projects, and operations, Khutsoane says.

Technological Advantages

Khutsoane says integrating technology and artificial intelligence (AI) in water treatment and infrastructure can improve the situation.

Smaller footprint plants are available to the water sector and require minimal civils and tend to use less power. The simplified user-friendly systems make it easier for operators and controllers to operate and maintain them.

Examples of such systems include moving bed biofilm reactors and fixed bed biofilm reactors for sewage treatment, as well as membrane bioreactors, ultrafiltration devices and reverse osmosis for industrial treatment.

Additionally, remote monitoring and controlling of plants can improve and allow for infrastructure development, especially in remote locations. It also assists in collecting statistical data which helps to run the plants effectively.

“We are building 11 containerised plants that will be fitted with remote monitoring and control systems so that our engineering and operations team can keep an eye on them, even though the plants will be placed in another country,” he adds.

Khutsoane says municipalities can address their challenges – such as having inadequate operational personnel, management teams and maintenance teams – by integrating such technology through exploring service-level agreements with reputable and knowledgeable companies while having a skills transfer programme.

While there is no easy solution to fix the country’s ageing infrastructure, there are relatively quicker solutions that can help improve the situation, such as decentralising water infrastructure by installing smaller, packaged plants, which can be installed in four to twelve weeks depending on the technology used.

Such plants are effective and can be deployed in rural areas with minimal civil works in a manner that is cost-effective and timeous, given the short turnaround times.

“. . . much of the industry is focusing primarily on effluent projects for water reuse and a shift towards becoming sustainable [regarding] waterwater use and water reuse. We are working on numerous projects and have completed some in which we built effluent plants for our customers. They are able to recycle that water for use as wash, boiler and cooling water and even drinking water,” concludes Khutsoane.