A citizen-led initiative aims to create lasting solutions to the protracted water crisis and to generate electricity
Almost every crop-farming South African town has them, rows of lofty grain silos that are invariably the only skyscrapers in bucolic lands.
They store agricultural products such as maize, but they could be a solution for another problem – the water shortages that local governments in these towns grapple with.
A local company, Aqua Silos, owned by Floyd Chubane and Billy van Rooyen, has come up with a novel idea to convert these gigantic storage facilities into water purification plants and reservoirs to keep water flowing constantly to communities.
This idea could not have come at a better time; South Africa is water-stressed as a result of drought, heatwaves and poor infrastructure.
Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu announced that her department would come up with a master plan to identify solutions to deal with the country’s water crisis.
There are 259 concrete grain silos across the country, and Aqua Silos has identified 122 of them for conversion at a cost of nearly R10 billion.
Each silo will cost R80 million to convert.
The company says the concrete silos can be replaced with a number of options such as steel silos, grain dams, hopper bins, bunkers, silo bags and other structures to make way for this innovation.
“The problem currently,” said Aqua Silos director Van Rooyen, “is that communities only have either bore holes or a small purification plant linked to a dam, and only this water can be pumped into a reservoir as it has to be clean.
“The problem is further enhanced by the fact that most small towns and even bigger towns where there is an influx of people, do not have big enough conventional reservoirs or the ones they have are neglected or old. On one hand, the storage capacity is not enough to cope with demand, and on the other, the source of raw water is only one or two options,” Van Rooyen said.
Aqua Silos aims to connect the silos to various sources of water – bore holes, storm water, rivers and effluent from waste water plants – which will be properly purified according to health and safety regulations.
Decommissioned power stations, the company says, can serve as the new bulk water suppliers to towns, townships and villages.
Acid mine water could also be diverted to decommissioned power stations in Gauteng and Mpumalanga to be treated and used for industries in Johannesburg, Emalahleni, Heidelberg, Vanderbijpark and Vereeniging.
Identified stations include Attridgeville Power Station, Rooiwal Power Station, Orlando Power Station, Grootvlei and Komati Power Station.
Van Rooyen said Aqua Silos’ pilot project was ready to be launched in Modimolle, Limpopo, provided that the concept receives the necessary support from the department.
The project has been supported by the Modimolle-Mookgophong Local Municipality and the department’s Limpopo regional office.
The company is trying to meet with Sisulu to make a presentation about the project, which it says was well received by her predecessor, the late Edna Molewa, in 2014.
Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent CEO Ntandazo Vimba has given his support, saying that the agent “views the solution as a feasible alternative mechanism for municipalities in their endeavour to sustainably provide clean drinking water to communities”.
In Modimolle, the company aims to invest R560 million in converting two silos in Vaalwater, connecting a pipeline to a village and social housing settlement of 3 500 houses.
Van Rooyen said the company had raised funding for the project based on the build, own, operate and transfer (Boot) concept.
“If government feels that it wants to fund this because it is infrastructure development, it can. But if it doesn’t have funds now and wants to do a Boot project as part of a public-private partnership, Aqua Silos will fund from the beginning and we can enter into a contractual agreement on the buy-back and the operating periods,” he said.
The Modimolle municipality has an agreement with the Magalies Water Board for water supply, but it is experiencing a shortage because of too many illegal connections along the pipeline running from Roodeplaat to Modimolle.
The plan is that once the silos have been converted, they will also generate hydro electricity.
Department spokesperson Sputnik Ratau said all water-related innovations must be presented to the department’s scientific unit, the Water Research Commission.
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