Future Water, UCT is one of 12 core partners in the Cluster that is co-led by Rhodes University (ARUA) and University of Ljubljana (The Guild).

The global landscape for management of our water resources is changing. Increasing demand, industrialisation, climate change and increasing entwining of social and ecological systems means traditional water resource management (WRM) is not meeting the challenges of our changing environments. Furthermore, disconnects between science and practice, means innovative research and technological advances often don’t translate to practical WRM. Decisions about future WRM are therefore highly uncertain, increasing risks and vulnerability for people and environment. Research is needed to consider existing governance and policy gaps, challenges with conventional approaches to WRM, technological innovations, peoples’ relations regarding water, and future potential water related risks. Future WRM needs to be transformative in order to become sustainable and have relevance for Africa and Europe. This Cluster focuses on exploring different solutions, learning opportunities/exchanges and pathways to innovation, policy and investment in WRM in Africa and Europe, and solutions that build long-term meaningful capacity within WRM.

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The RESBEN project aims to develop a deeper understanding of the co-benefits of water treatment as a catalyst to drive interventions and solutions that unlock many SDGs. This project builds on research using nature-based processes to clean and treat water from contaminated surface water runoff from an informal settlement. The study site at the Water Hub, Franschhoek, is a research and innovation centre that has been chosen for the development of ASA in the RESBEN project; this includes laboratory experiments used to analyse bioprocesses in filter systems and risk assessments for the reuse of treated water for irrigating edible crops.  Thus far, data gathered includes water quality data, mass balances, nutrient degradation, flow rate and retention time, but stakeholder analysis, risk assessment and governance are areas of the study that require more attention.

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Funder: BRGM (the French Geological Society)

Duration: 2022 - 

Team: Kirsty Carden

Explores CECs in groundwater

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This project aims to address the pressing water security challenges faced in South Africa, with a focus on the Western Cape province through management of greywater and stormwater. The project implements water-sensitive urban design(WSUD) principles to mitigate water scarcity and promote sustainable water management practices. In this context, the project primarily emphasized the adoption of decentralized and nature based solutions(NbS) for grey water and stormwater management, targeting both informal settlements and high-density middle-income areas. The main phase of NEU-Water is designed to demonstrate and analyse technology and urban planning interventions. The first phase of the project is complete and the project team have been invited to submit Phase 2 which involves design and implementation. Supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in Germany and based at the Water Hub.

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Funder: DANIDA Strategic sector collaboration program Phase 1 and Phase 2

Duration: 2019-2021 (Phase 1); 2022 - 2025 (Phase 2)

Team: Kirsty Carden, Neil Armitage, John Okedi, Kevin Winter, Jessica Fell, Amber Abrams

The overall objective is to identify opportunities for, and generate knowledge on, the physical and institutional integration of decentralised nature-based solutions into the urban water cycle to support and accelerate a transition towards water resilience in South African cities. The experimental work will be addressed in two inter-related work package (WP) streams: WP1 on physical experimentation with and evaluation of WSD options at different urban scales; and WP2 on exploring governance processes for enabling the emergent transitions. Visit the PaWS project page, learn about project outputs or read a news archive.

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The overall aim of the project is to address the issue of mine closure in the context of local socio-economic development and community well-being and livelihoods by conducting an assessment of mine closure risk and post mine closure land-use opportunities and assessing impacts on the host communities. Visit the project page here or the Mine Closure Risk and Opportunity Atlas.


The project delivers enhanced knowledge and information pertaining to:

  1. A set of indicators and national map for assessing and predicting mine closure risks on the environment and community well-being in South Africa;
  2. A set of indicators to rank and score post-closure land-use opportunities;
  3. A database of mine closure risks for mining communities in South Africa;
  4. Identification and ranking of opportunities for post-mining land use for four case studies in Limpopo (PGM mining), Mpumalanga (coal mining), Gauteng (gold mining).

 

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The aim aims to support UCT’ Vision 2030 and UCT’s environmental sustainability strategy. The project will focus on 5 key themes and consider the environmental, financial and social impacts associated with these themes in the UCT campus context a number of sustainability themes: Energy, Carbon footprint, Water, Waste Management and Wildfire in UCT. A transdisciplinary community of practice to work in a coordinated manner across these various research themes.

Key areas of intervention and work packages:

1. Carbon footprint/Energy Nexus (led by Professor Harro von Blottnitz):

Development of a cost optimal pathway and business case for UCT to strongly reduce its Carbon emissions as required by science.

2. Waste-to-Energy, Water and Food Nexus (led by Dr Thanos Kotsiopoulos)

Development of a campus-wide, integrated food-water-energy system based on the anaerobic digestion (AD) of organic waste with concomitant technologies to produce valuable products

3. Wildlife, Waste & Food Nexus (led by Professor Nicoli Nattrass)

Educating the campus community about the ‘waste–rodenticide–wildlife’ connection through action research and by employing innovative art to support recycling, waste reduction and integrated pest management of external spaces on upper campus.

4. Sustainable Water Management (led by Dr Kirsty Carden)

Transforming UCT into a ‘no-drop wasted’ campus by seeking to embed a more holistic approach to water management in line with Water Sensitive Design (WSD) principles. This will be achieved by assessing alternative water use opportunities on UCT’s main campuses and selecting projects that could be implemented as exemplars/test cases.

5. Building an inclusive university wide community of practice for transformative sustainability outcomes (led by Dr Britta Rennkamp, Prof Sheona Shackleton in collaboration with Manfred Braune):

Building a university community of practice.

Below is  a diagram depicting the core technical areas of intervention of the project and how these might interface and intersect – as the project develops, team leaders will build on these intersections and opportunities.

Funder : University of Cape Town

Duration: 2021 - 2025

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This project engages citizens of South Africa (especially those in Cape Town) with the aim of collaboratively developing an online interactive map of the various water samples/stories submitted to begin to develop an understanding of local water users and their perceptions of their water sources. The map provides an interactive space, where:

  1. individuals can input your own water sources, and related stories, images, or efforts;
  2. groups and organizations linked to water can share their projects and network with others;
  3. researchers and funders can begin to understand the water-use and watery engagements landscape; and
  4. we can all come together around the vital resource of water, to better understand our watery needs, relations and uses.

You can learn more about how to get involved in the project, or the academic aims, or you can just visit the map and start exploring.

Funder: Multiple sources (i.e., Future Water, URC, etc)

Duration: 2019 - ongoing

Team: Amber Abrams

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In collaboration with Rhodes University, through the Institute for Water Research (IWR), we are working on a three-year grant under the Erasmus+ call for Capacity Building for Higher Education (https://erasmus-plus.ec.europa.eu/news/results-2023-capacity-building-for-higher-education-call). Entitled “Nature-based solutions for African Climate Resilience”, the project’s overall objective is to enhance the capability of future professionals (current students) and of current environmental specialists and engineers (through professional development courses) for facilitating climate resilience in Africa. As a first step, the project focusses on promoting NbS in Higher Education Institution (HEI) curricula. NbS is also high on the agenda of the EU (Green Deal), Africa (Agenda 2063 for Africa's Development: The Africa We Want) and national (climate) policy documents in Senegal and South Africa. Considering the need to build capacity for these solutions in Africa, the project goes beyond university curricula in HEIs and responds to the need to build capacity of actors who design, develop and implement of resilient infrastructure. This project works with civil engineers (the designers) and environmental scientists (the gatekeepers) on nature-based and resilient infrastructure development.

A.Prof K Carden, Dr. A Abrams are involved.

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Our urine only makes up 1% of the volume of domestic wastewater streams but it contains about 80% of the nitrogen, 56% of the phosphorus and 63% of the potassium. These are three key ingredients required for fertilizer production, yet we literally flush these away every day. This project aims to rethink human urine as a “waste” by recycling it into many useful products (pee-cycling).

Read more.

Funder: Multiple

Duration: Ongoing

Team: Dyllon Randall, Caitlin Courtney

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PIs: Assoc/Prof David Ikumi, Dr Amber Abrams

South Africa faces increasing water scarcity which requires a shift in relations with water of varying qualities to ensure equitable and sustainable future systems. Research is needed to consider (i) existent governance and the gaps in current policy, (ii) challenges with conventional approaches to water resource management, (iii) technological innovations, (iv) peoples’ relations regarding water and (v) future potential risks related to water. The RRIP research programme intends to address these through a multi-pronged, processual and transdisciplinary approach that will focus on efforts towards achieving the ‘net zero water’ concept, which aims to reduce water demand, maximise alternative water sources, and minimise waste, whilst ensuring investment in people, meeting of local interests and promotion of equity and justice.

Methods include laboratory and field scale studies, GIS mapping, statistical analysis, modelling, including the use of digital twins and IoT, scenario analyses, water quality risk assessments and stakeholder consultation and collaboration. The aim of this research is to improve Africa's water security through the co-creation and co-design of pragmatic solutions and governance systems for reusing and recovering resources in water, enhancing water management and addressing risk. Researchers from faculties of EBE (Civil Engineering, APG), Science (EGS), Health Sciences (Public Health), Commerce (Economics), Law (Public Law) and Humanities (Social Anthropology) will work together in transdisciplinary teams, and expand into other departments/ disciplines as required. We will work alongside civic organisations and stakeholders in the water and sanitation sector, and within partnerships with external institutes on the development of translational research outputs to influence policy. The research team acknowledges that one key role is to act as knowledge bridges and relational connectors, linking policy and decision makers/implementers with local residents, workers and citizens who, daily, face the realities that emerge from decisions and policies.

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Collaboration with TUMunich with experimentation at the Water Hub. 

The main objectives of the pre-feasibility study are to assess opportunities for resource recovery at the Water Hub, including:

- to examine current water quality and effectiveness of currently implemented nature-based solutions and recommend further solutions such as sequential managed aquifer recharge technology (SMART) if appropriate;

- examine the feasibility of water reclamation and reuse;

- assess energy recovery through anaerobic co-digestion of different feed stocks; support development of business plans for entrepreneurship opportunities from organic (food) waste-to-energy streams, nutrient recovery (organic fertilizer) etc., and serving local markets; 

- assess benefits for ecosystem services regeneration of deploying this Nexus approach; and

- support knowledge dissemination and capacity building among project partners and stakeholders through the enabling environment provided by the Living Lab concept of the Water Hub.

A recent presentation on the research provides updates on the progress here.

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The Water Hub is an existent off campus Living Lab in Franschhoek Valley.

An abandoned wastewater treatment works (WWTW) in Franschhoek was dubbed the Water Hub by researchers in 2018. Constructed in the 1960s on municipal land, the abandoned property offers opportunities to build a resource recovery centre and an innovative research project. This began with the treatment of contaminated surface water runoff of the Stiebeuel River bisecting the study site. The Water Hub's location provides a good test site reflexive of many of South Africa’s waterways, as informal settlement and urban poor coexist alongside attractive vineyards and affluent landowners.

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Climate change impacts and rapid urbanisation in South African cities contribute to problems associated with water scarcity (drought), flooding (lack of drainage) and environmental degradation (poor-quality runoff to local water bodies), highlighting widening concerns about the resilience of conventional water infrastructure. Water sensitive design (WSD) is a complementary approach to addressing some of the deficits of conventional urban water services that takes a total water cycle view through the integration of built water infrastructure with green infrastructure, often in a decentralised manner. These efforts contribute to achieving a water sensitive city (WSC) with an associated stormwater component, often referred to as Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), although recent literature suggests ‘Blue-Green Infrastructure’ (BGI) is a more appropriate umbrella term. BGI comprises mostly nature-based approaches that can help cities to return urban rainfall-runoff processes to more natural hydrological cycle flows. BGI including WSD and SuDS can offer cities multifunctional and alternative ways to adapt to climate change.  For the mainstreaming of approaches like WSUD, it is necessary to move beyond physical experimentation towards the interrogation of existing governance structures, cultures and practices in a manner that can highlight policy windows for the anchoring of insights gained in the policy processes and outscaling possibilities. We explored first the policy landscape, and then the lived experience of implementing BGI in already existent stormwater ponds in order to develop an implementation guide on ‘best bets’ providing guidance directives on how the possible multiple functions of stormwater ponds (including MAR) can be planned, designed, monitored, upscaled and aggregated in collaboration with key stakeholders (including city officials, technical specialists and local residents) to provide a wider range of water-related, amenity and liveability services.

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This collaboration established the Making Waveforms short course series. Through experiential learning, demonstrations and a number of field trips (i.e. water sports, riverside soundwalk, etc.), participants in this course are asked to explore their relationships with water. They are paired with local Knowledge Keepers and are tasked with building meaningful connections over a period of five weeks, to create short, site-specific videos to raise awareness about the importance of healthy waterways.

In addition this collaboration has developed a number of other ongoing efforts, including Source To Sea mural and engagement activities, as well as workshops that sensitize residents to the ecological and social values of watery spaces. We work with NGOs and youth, as well as with politicians and education facilities to develop interactive, engaged ways to share with many publics our research, translate scientific and technical research for a variety of audiences, and explore all kinds of values and knowledges around water and waterscapes. This has included conferences and ongoing, travelling art engagements and installations.

Funder: Multiple sources

Duration: 2019 - ongoing

Team: Amber Abrams (UCT), Anna James (UCKAR), Sarah Van Borek (U Toronto)

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