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Exclusive interview with Jason Mingo, Berg River Task Manager at Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning

Jason Mingo, Berg River Task Manager at Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning

Please tell us more about your department and the kind of projects you are involved in?
The Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning is the regulatory body for the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) and related legislation. The Department plays a key role in supporting and capacitating Municipalities to achieve their requirements in terms of environmental legislation.

Furthermore, the Department also plays a proactive role in engaging with both local and national stakeholders to encourage and implement actions to ensure the protection of the environment for sustainable economic growth.

What does fit-for-purpose use of water entail?
It requires an understanding and thinking which acknowledges the fact that varying water uses do not require the same level of water quality. The simplest example is the utilisation of rainwater harvesting for flushing a toilet, or the harvesting of stormwater for irrigating gardens. The promotion of fit-for-purpose aims to address water conservation, and create a paradigm shift in the way our public utilise water on a daily basis.

How can the principles of Water Sensitive Urban Design be applied to cities? How is this thinking new?
The application of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) requires a systems approach whereby engineers, urban planners and environmental scientists work together in a manner which integrates the multiple facets of managing water to promote a greater awareness and sensitivity to its needs.

A critical factor is the ability for a variety of professional disciplines to collaborate on designing and planning cities in a way that promotes water-use efficiency and by doing so contribute to the liveability, sustainability and resilience capacity of our current and future urban settlements.

The thinking of WSUD has developed around the vulnerability posed by our current reliance on mountain catchments and rivers for water supply in a time of increasing uncertainty regarding patterns of rainfall.

By distributing our ability to capture, treat and store water, cities are able to buffer both floods and droughts. This has been particularly true for Australia where much of the research and thinking of WSUD is being pioneered and developed, in response to both the millennium drought and the following flooding that occurred.

As a global population, we have recently reached a tipping point, where now the majority of the population is living within urban rather than rural areas. This rate of urban growth will continue to apply pressure to already stretched water resources and thus the thinking of WSUD is a response to this continuing the growth and the need for a new approach to designing urban areas.

It should be noted that the application of WSUD is not new, in the sense of applying various forms of technology, as this has been applied through Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) or Low Impact Development (LID).

Where WSUD is new, is the consideration for a city-scale connected network of such technology which not only promotes the protection of the environment but promotes connectivity within society, liveable environments in the face of urban densification and sensitivity to managing water responsibly.

Please tell us more about the case study you are involved in at Langrug?
Langrug is currently an informal settlement, on the outskirts of Franschhoek within Stellenbosch Municipality. As is the case with many municipalities on the fringes of large metropolitans, such as the City of Cape Town, their capacity to adequately deliver solutions and services to growing informal settlements is constrained by their access to financial resources. Indeed, the large metropolitans face the same issues on a much larger scale.

The Langrug project therefore, aims to pilot innovation in the management of waste flows as a prioritised task to firstly improve the dignity of living conditions and secondly to ensure environmental protection.

The project is called the Genius of SPACE, with SPACE being an acronym for Systems for People’s Access to a Clean Environment. The incorporation of WSUD principles is seen through the proposed management of household greywater and stormwater, whereby the utilisation of green infrastructure is being developed as a more sustainable solution than conventional means.

Critical to the project is the involvement of the community and establishment of their support for such an initiative. In dealing with the treatment of stormwater, a focus is also placed on the need for improved solid waste management.

In line with circular economy thinking, the opportunity to utilise the solid waste in upcycling and value-add chains is being investigated. The ultimate aim is to develop feasible and viable microenterprise opportunities linked to the upcycling for members of the Langrug community, to ensure the activities are sustained.

The project is hoped to develop a model to be replicated in Municipalities throughout the Western Cape Province and possibly South Africa, to encourage and promote WSUD in the development and management of both informal and formal urban settlements for the future.

You are speaking at African Utility Week in May about this project, what will be your message?
In the light of increasing pressures on our natural resources and the vulnerability to our populations as a result, a new kind of thinking and approach is needed to deliver real solutions in our society.

These solutions need to ensure sustainable development through innovative thinking and a systems approach. In light of ongoing technological advances and the disruptions they offer, the need for community engagement and involvement in the design and development of service delivery should never be underestimated.

Ashley Theron
Ashley Theron-Ord is based in Cape Town, South Africa at Clarion Events-Africa. She is the Senior Content Producer across media brands including ESI Africa, Smart Energy International, Power Engineering International and Mining Review Africa.