Cape Town is becoming a hub for research and innovation into water security following its recent water crisis.  The city hosted the Water Institute of Southern Africa conference (WISA 2018) in June, which sought to address water resource challenges by promoting collaboration, cooperation and integration within the water sector, with an emphasis on Southern African case studies and research.

The region faces increased uncertainty and vulnerability regarding water supply, with local researchers trying to come up with solutions to the issue. One key institution is the Future Water Institute at the University of Cape Town, a transdisciplinary research institute that is addressing issues of water scarcity in South Africa, largely through water-sensitive design.

One of the institute’s flagship projects, The Water Hub, is a partnership between the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch Municipality and the Western Cape government. Located at an abandoned water treatment facility in Franschhoek, the new project aims to become South Africa’s leading research and training centre for developing appropriate solutions to contaminated stormwater and water reuse, including the use of natural systems and bioprocesses. While the completion of the project vision is scoped to occur in 2022, the site is already a hub of participative research activities.

Meanwhile, a Master’s student at Future Water, Boipelo Madonsela, won Most Promising Research at WISA 2018 for her work on integrating water-sensitive design into Cape Town’s urban environment.

Madonsela’s research focuses on the need for integrating urban design with environmental, social and engineering disciplines in managing the urban water cycle.

“The objective is to interrogate city governance structures related to water scarcity, flood risk and wastewater treatment in order to develop a better understanding of the current sustainability issues with respect to water management in the City of Cape Town. We need to have an environmental strategy in the city where the policies that are written and the work people do in different fields [are] informed by sustainability practices. It needs to be integrated.”

Madonsela says Cape Town has been taking important steps to conserve water, and hopes the recent rains will not slow the pace of working together and building resilience into policy and planning in the water space.

“A lot of research, especially around water and the sustainability of water, has been on the technical aspects … on new solutions and innovations. My interest is in the transitions. You can have all these technologies, but you need to find a way to integrate them in the urban environment.”

Dr Kirsty Carden, research coordinator for Future Water and Madonsela’s supervisor, says her student’s research comes at a pivotal time.

“What Boipelo is doing is very exciting … looking at what the governance processes are at a city level to try and implement these new and sustainable ways of managing water. It’s also extremely relevant now with the recent water crisis. Nothing happens overnight. Things need to change in incremental ways. But we are beginning to show where those leverage points are.”


Featured image: Master’s student Boipelo Madonsela won the award for Most Promising Research at the recent Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA 2018) conference in Cape Town (via UCT)

(via UCT, The Water Hub)