User requirements for sustainable South African Water Management

What are the information needs and requirements of operational water managers in South Africa? Which new services and applications can help them with their biggest challenge: water scarcity? During the first half of 2019, colleagues from HydroLogic have traveled
multiple times to South Africa to acquire information and investigate the needs and challenges of the South African Catchment Management Agencies (CMA’s) who are responsible for the operational management of the available water resources.

Clear communication and data-sharing

South Africa suffers from water stress. The water availability is higher than the water demand. Every drop of rainfall needs to be optimally used and distributed. For CMA’s, monitoring the water availability and providing sufficient water to stakeholders are key tasks. CMA’s want open and transparent water management, which means that data-sharing and communication with stakeholders and colleagues (e.g. municipalities and (inter)-national government) has a high priority. Ideally, weather- and water data derived from both in-situ and remote sensing data, combined with local knowledge (e.g. international obligations, local thresholds) is shared through a central platform that all stakeholders can reach. Such potential data services fit right into the TWIGA project. The objective of TWIGA is providing unavailable geo-information on weather, water and climate for sub-Saharan Africa by enhancing satellite-based geo-data with innovative in situ sensors and developing related information services that answer needs of African stakeholders and the GEOSS community.

Real-time water balance

Another frequently raised question is also related to water availability: how much water is left in the reservoirs? We noticed that this question came up at almost every conversation with a South African operational water manager. Together with Dr. Tendai Sawunyama (Senior Manager River Systems, Planning, and Operations at the Inkomati-Usuthu Catchment Management Agency (IUCMA) in South Africa) and Lington Skhosana (Head IT at IUCMA) we discussed this issue and came up with a conceptual plan for the implementation of a real-time water balance of dam-lakes. This would give water managers better insight into the fluxes in- and out of dam-lakes and could also serve as an early warning for potential water shortage.

During our travels to Southern Africa, countless valuable other ideas (from drone-derived volume measurements to ground-water measurements in a platform) related to water management was discussed. The input from Southern African water authorities was immense and much appreciated. This, once again proves that discussing matters with African colleagues in person and on location is essential for business development. This project has received funding from the Europan Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement No. 776691.

Written by Glenn Morvan