Seawater desalination poised to go mainstream

Gaongalelwe Tiro

The National Water and Sanitation Master Plan (NWSMP), Minister Lindiwe Sisulu launched in November last year, identifies seawater desalination as a significant element of the national water mix in the next ten years. Opportunities abound for TCTA to play a central role in this development.


According to hydrological data in the NWSMP, the country has a current water deficit, which will grow larger unless stakeholders take action to close the gap. Hence, the Plan aims to restore the national water balance by 2030 as a vital underpinning of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals.


TCTA Senior Manager for Strategic Advisory Dawid Bosman notes that the new national blueprint on water and sanitation gives prominence to seawater desalination as a future source of climate-independent freshwater. The move heralds the entry of large-scale desalination into the South African water resource portfolio and is a crucial development for TCTA.


The Authority will need to develop new capacities, and this is an opportunity for growth into a new domain. “The 2011 National Desalination Strategy of 2011 earmarks TCTA for key roles in the financing and development of implementation excellence of such future projects,” says Bosman.


“In anticipation of desalination becoming mainstream, TCTA has gradually developed knowledge in the field and took the lead in 2014 to establish a multi-institutional forum for knowledge exchange. It is now emerging that the coming decade will bring opportunities for the organisation to put that knowledge into practice.”


The National Water and Sanitation Master Plan asserts that for South Africa to achieve a positive national water balance by 2030, it must tackle both supply- and demand-side aspects of water management. “Over the next ten years, South African households would need to consume much less water, and municipalities would need to waste much less water,” Bosman adds.


“On the supply side, some new dams and transfer schemes will need to be built, to increase the surface water yield. But significantly, the NWSMP indicates that alternative water resources, such as desalination, reuse and groundwater will need to be developed on an unprecedented scale.”


The National Water and Sanitation Master Plan (NWSMP), Minister Lindiwe Sisulu launched in November last year, identifies seawater desalination as a significant element of the national water mix in the next ten years. Opportunities abound for TCTA to play a central role in this development.


According to hydrological data in the NWSMP, the country has a current water deficit, which will grow larger unless stakeholders take action to close the gap. Hence, the Plan aims to restore the national water balance by 2030 as a vital underpinning of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals.
 

Our Senior Manager for Strategic Advisory, Dawid Bosman, notes that the new national blueprint on water and sanitation gives prominence to seawater desalination as a future source of climate independent freshwater. The move heralds the entry of large-scale desalination into the South African water resource portfolio and is a crucial development for TCTA.


The Authority will need to develop new capacities, and this is an opportunity for growth into a new
domain. “The 2011 National Desalination Strategy of 2011 earmarks TCTA for key roles in the financing
and development of implementation excellence of such future projects,” says Bosman. “In anticipation of desalination becoming mainstream, TCTA has gradually developed knowledge in the field and took the lead in 2014 to establish a multi-institutional forum for knowledge exchange. It is now emerging that the coming decade will bring opportunities for the organisation to put that knowledge into practice.”


The National Water and Sanitation Master Plan asserts that for South Africa to achieve a positive national water balance by 2030, it must tackle both supply- and demand-side aspects of water management. “Over the next ten years, South African households would need to consume much less water, and municipalities would need to waste much less water,” Bosman adds.

“On the supply side, some new dams and transfer schemes will need to be built, to increase the surface water yield. But significantly, the NWSMP indicates that alternative water resources, such as desalination, reuse and groundwater will need to be developed on an unprecedented scale.”


The vulnerability of surface water to a drying climate requires less reliance on it. Besides, new surface water projects are suffering diminishing returns indicating clearly that “the best dams have already been built”, says Bosman, speaking during an internal TCTA Knowledge-Sharing Session held in February.


He reminded the attendees that only 0.01% of the planet’s water is fresh and accessible in dams, rivers and lakes; 97% of it is seawater, 2% is locked in polar ice caps, and roughly 1% is groundwater. “Yet, 99% of the global population, now climbing past 7.8 billion people, survives on this minute proportion of the total water stock,” says Bosman.


The interventions the NWSMP proposes will be fraught with challenges, and much of it in the areas of financial and human resource capacities. Notably, the Plan places the responsibility for desalination and other alternative water projects with the municipalities, where institutional capacity deficiencies are most pronounced.


Therefore, TCTA needs to position itself as the leading state entity for advisory support in desalination, says Bosman. Success in this role could lead to formal directives to implement large scale desalination projects on behalf of municipalities. TCTA is already supporting the Development Bank of Southern Africa in the development of a national programme in desalination aimed at local government.


“TCTA has anchored the Desalination Community of Practice over the past six years, which positions us well for a central role in project rollouts,” says Bosman. “Advisory capacity now exists in areas such as site selection, marine works, process options, technology choices, market dynamics, cost benchmarking and estimates, procurement options and stakeholder management.”


Bosman emphasised that while the new infrastructure would help make water supply more reliable and resilient to climate change, there would always be the need to waste and to use water less. “No matter where it comes from, water will always be our most precious resource,” he says.

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