Municipal Services

Looking closely at our water with help from the Institute for Water Research

By Fezekile Cokile

The Institute for Water Research (IWR) is a key player in improving sustainable water resources management, not only in Grahamstown but within Southern Africa as a whole. Located at Rhodes University some of the institute’s main objectives include contracting projects that are aimed at solving specific water-related problems and supplying information about water to the public through written articles and public lectures.

IWR also provides scientific research and development of new tools (hydrological models, and training future water scientists) to enable useful application of results. The institute has partners in government departments and consultancy companies.

Professor Carolyn Tally Palmer is the director of Unilever Centre for Environment Water Quality, an integral part of IWR. Her subdivision has a long-standing cooperative partnership with Unilever since 1999, which has afforded it an active role in national water policy development.

Talking about the quality of our water in Grahamstown, Palmer said that the quality of water is not as reliable as in the big metros like Cape Town because we are a small town. She says that if you are a healthy individual you have nothing to worry about; it is not dangerous to drink Grahamstown water.

“The water in Grahamstown is measured through a Blue Drop system. It is a government system,” she explained. “The Blue Drop system requires a 24/7 check which is not usually the case here in Grahamstown.”

In 2010, 2011 and 2012 Makana municipality scored 28.4, 55.07 and 71.90 respectively in their Blue Drop Provincial Performance log whereas Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela metros, on the other hand, came out with 92.55 and 90.04 in 2012.

The Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality came out on top as the best performing municipality in the Eastern Cape. Makana came in 6th place.

“Our municipality does not have adequate trained personnel for the job,” Tally explains and so, part of their job at IWR is to also focus on the effects of water chemistry on freshwater resources, and to assess the water quality of water resources.

This year, IWR and the Water for Dignity project spent the International Day of Action for Rivers educating high school pupils about the importance of water conservation.

Of course, educating the community is part of their objective and a key goal is to influence a generation that will come to care a great deal about water. The kids were taught, amongst other things, how to keep water streams unpolluted by picking up the rubbish floating on the streams.

Because IWR is a research institute it would undoubtedly play a crucial part should Rhodes University decide to create its own water system. This would mean that Rhodes University engineers its own way to provide water supply.

Such a system would include a drainage basin, water purification facilities, water storage systems like water towers, reservoirs and so forth.

Tally admits it would be a worthwhile but expensive project. “It might ease the pressure from the municipality in order for them to focus on other areas in the community that are in need of water,” she said.

Importantly, she says that the project would have to focus on the reuse and efficient use of Rhodes water. This would require a system analysis and IWR could be of great assistance with that.

At the moment the IWR has other big projects that it wants to focus on, particularly the project called ‘Rehabilitation of grasslands after eradication of alien invasive trees’.

In its 2013 annual report it was mentioned that the institute has been successful in bidding for a R4.3 million Water Research Commission. It will be a five year project which will address issues associated with the sustainable management of grasslands.

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