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The Old Sewerage Works waiting for great ideas:

When the new Franschhoek Sewerage Works was commissioned the old one was closed down. So what does one do with it now?

This was the purpose of the workshop held at Rickety Bridge Winery on the 13, April. It was organised by Western Cape Government, represented by Jason Mingo, who heads up the project. They have in turn have asked Shannon Royden Turner and Claire Janisch, from BiomimicrySA to facilitate the process.

The brief was almost non-existent, or at least very broad. Unusual from government, but this was very deliberate, as the WCG did not want to limit thinking, and is seeking innovative ways of using this facility, and really wants the public, local government, business and all interested parties to participate in coming up with something out of the box.

Five basic aims where put forward,

  • Clean water
  • Research
  • Education
  • Recreation
  • Entrepreneurial opportunities.

Not so easy on a 1.5 hectare site. Discussion was open and vibrant, with all sorts of ideas.

Clair, fuelled up these discussions with a chat on Biomimicry, and its relationship to ecological engineering.  Inspiring everyone to look at natural phenomena differently, not as what is it about, but rather what can we learn from it, how does it function, how and what does it produce, and how everything is interconnected.

And foremost, how can we emulate it to tackle water purification, and increase biodiversity in our rivers. But it has a number of other teachings as well.

How can we identify the keys to resilience in our water systems, from source to sea and all the uses in between? Without continual supply of eco system services, we are doomed.

Some officials were adamant that engineered solutions are the only way to handle storm water from informal settlements, as it contained too much human and other waste. But after long and robust discussion, did capitulate that a Biomimicry could be part of the bigger solution.

Biomimicry, have worked very successfully in other parts of the world, as John Todd has proved, but will they work in a South African landscape?

Without education and community buy in, no. But if the community embrace the idea it will surely work. The community expressed this, and sated that would welcome any solution that removed sewerage from the streets, and improve the environment that their kids play in.

When I asked an engineer, who had successfully run an alternative purifying system, as to how much land was required to make a workable system, it was stated that for 1200 people it had worked on a 10 x 5 meter area.  It needs aeration, which with fall over rocks helps with the process before the plants do the rest.

If we could perfect this, how many people can get off the system and take a huge load off the municipal systems?

The CWBR   Sewerage To Trees project could then be rolled out on a major basis. 

How does one now look at the other preferred outcomes?

  • Is the site ideal for an education centre?  Is it accessible? Is it duplicating other efforts in the area ?
  • As Research Centre this would be an ideal first time project with huge potential for research, the source of problems, the river , a decommissioned sewerage works, within an hours drive, support from all local communities, an increasing population, an incredible view from the office window right in the middle of the Winelands-, which researcher would not jump at the opportunity ?.
  • Recreation may be possible, but there are other larger and more suitable locations just down the road. But as a combined project, there could be many spin offs. What is recreation, like tourism it has many facets, so as a part of local tourism and interest in research and innovate thinking, it has huge potential. This is turn would multiply opportunities for entrepreneurial opportunities which would lead to employment.

This whole project shows fantastic courage and innovative thinking on behalf of all those involved. People, who are prepared to take risks, may have to accept some failures along the way, but are determined to make it would. I have no doubts they will succeed.

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