Water is a precious commodity that needs to be managed wisely to serve the ever-growing population and promote economic growth.

Integrated infrastructure delivery company AECOM is a global leader in providing solutions and innovations to assist communities, businesses and clients to improve their resilience.

South Africa is classified as a water-scarce country, with some projections estimating that, at present, it exploits roughly 98% of its available water-supply resources.

In many areas, the challenge is looming ever larger.

“When a severe multi-year drought, coupled with difficult management parameters, is experienced, such as was the case in the Western Cape from 2015 to 2018, conditions hold serious implications and challenges everyone concerned,” Hanine van Deventer (Pr. Eng), Senior Engineer at AECOM, highlights.

The ability of all stakeholders to respond wisely, lawfully, and fairly in such a crisis becomes a daunting and complex minefield, especially to enterprises not knowledgeable of the requirements.

This is where AECOM’s expertise is vital, ranging from risk assessment to mitigation of identified risks and assurance of sustainability.

During the so-called ‘Day Zero’ crisis in October 2017, when the City of Cape Town predicted it would effectively run out of water by March 2018, AECOM was approached by various private companies to provide professional services that would improve their resilience in response to water-supply interruptions.

This was driven largely by commercial interests, as in loss of revenue, as well as liability concerns in terms of safety and insurance requirements. Other aspects were the long-term goal of reduced utility costs, or ultimate independence from the municipal water supply.

“Some clients noticed the impending crisis, requested budget, and engaged early. Some were more structured, but many left these interventions too late, and were required to respond to all these critical concerns simultaneously to manage the immediate and evident crisis,” van Deventer points out.

The emergency solutions and mitigations ranged from fairly innovative to more radical measures that were “sometimes inadequate, high-risk and beyond the legislative framework.”

Water-saving initiatives included replacement of conventional sanitary fittings with water-saving technology. Here the problem is not only understanding what this technology actually is, but what it can achieve.

Air-conditioning systems were altered, dual-plumbing water systems introduced, including the addition of fire extinguishers to supplement water-suppression.

Supplementary sources were also investigated.

These included rain- and grey-water harvesting, reclaimed groundwater harvesting (collection of seepage groundwater or borehole water), blackwater and greywater treatment, tanker supply (trucking water in via tanker water service), and use of bottled drinking water.

The options of encouraging employees to work from home to avoid business disruption and supplying them with imported water instead of having to queue during working hours, thus alleviating the inconvenience, were also considered.

“When faced with the daunting task of implementing infrastructure to combat an unprecedented event such as ‘Day Zero’ in Cape Town, stakeholders can often over- or, worse, underestimate the level of intervention required.

“Needless to say, time was of the essence as ‘Day Zero’ crept closer,” van Deventer warns.

“Private-sector companies are seldom knowledgeable or equipped to deal with crisis interventions on a regular basis, possibly leading to an unwitting and/or hasty approach to implementing solutions.”

“In a world where climate, environmental, and demographic changes impact on our access to nature’s most important resource, water, it is imperative to ensure that the risks posed to security are mitigated effectively by improving on our state of resilience,” Jan-Willem van Huyssteen (Pr. Eng), Water Executive at AECOM, concludes.