Under pressure: relieving the pressure from traditional water supply sources

Written by Kimberly Wakkary, on 13 April 2018

In many water-stressed cities in the Global South, the poorest do not have access to a reliable and safe water source. With the populations of these cities rapidly increasing, traditional water sources are running low. How can these cities relieve the pressure from their traditional water supply sources and quench the thirst of its population?

Lifting the weights

In 2016, IHE Delft initiated a four-year project called “enabling the assessment of alternative water supply systems to promote urban water security in the Global South”, otherwise known as AltWater. The project investigates ways to increase the self-reliance and sustainability of cities in the Global South, by relieving pressure from traditional water supply sources through implementing alternative water systems. In collaboration with local partners, the project is executed in four cities: Maputo and Beira in Mozambique, and Surabaya and Gresik in Indonesia. These partners are local water or knowledge organisations: water companies Aguas de Regiao de Maputo (AdeM) and Fundo do Investimento e Patrimonio do Abastecimento de Agua (FIPAG) in Mozambique, and the Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember University (ITS), and Surabaya and Gresik district water authorities in Indonesia. The partners participate in research on alternative water supply assessment and planning and collaborate to exchange knowledge between partners to increase capacity, as well as creating useful networks. The project takes a “leader-follower” approach, with the two bigger cities, Maputo and Surabaya, serving as leaders, who are responsible for developing and training capacity in Beira and Gresik. Learn more about our City-to-City learning approach and services.

Mr. Carlos Cossa and Professor Wahyono Hadi from Maputo and Gresik respectively, both work on the AltWater project in their cities, acting as the focal point of communication and facilitation of the project. Mr. Cossa, a civil engineer previously working for AdeM, who now owns his own consultancy company, claims that the local water reservoir behind the Pequenos Limbobos dam, is only 15 % full.  “The water level is slowly increasing, but not above 25-30% of its total capacity”. Such numbers are especially worrying, and are not sufficient to cater to the population of the area. The region already experiences water restrictions, and there is a growing fear that people who are not able to store their water in tanks, especially in the less wealthy areas, will resort to unsafe water sources, which may carry dangerous bacteria. Across the Indian Ocean, Professor Hadi, head of the Water Technology Laboratory of the Gresik district, faces a similar problem. The growing industries in the district demand  a lot of water, but the traditional water supply source is running low. Professor Hadi and his team are now looking for other water supply sources.

Expanding knowledge

For the AltWater project, Mr. Cossa and Professor Hadi brought together local stakeholders to discuss the challenges the cities were facing, how they can solve such issues and the use of alternative water supply systems. These group discussions saw participants sharing and exchanging their knowledge and experiences. “To tackle the droughts in Maputo, we proposed making more boreholes” says Mr. Cossa. “Beira however, cannot drill boreholes because of the sea level, so we exchanged knowledge, advised them on other places to put boreholes, we tried to think of how we could help” he adds. “Moreover, we also learned a lot about new concepts and methodologies, how to predict urban water demand and analyse potential supply and deal with data sources. For example, how we can effectively use rain water, drainage, even the condensation from the air conditioning” Mr. Cossa says.

In Surabaya and Gresik, the situation is not as severe as in Mozambique, yet. “But we really need to think ahead - at least 20 years from now” says Professor Hadi. “I think participants of the project were not fully aware of the importance, the severity of the case. But after our workshops and discussions, they realised that this is really important” he says. The problem might present itself as a small obstacle for some at the moment, but can unfold to become a huge issue in the near future.  During the project, the participants reflected on long-term solutions for their issues. “We had to calculate how many litres per second have to be supplied and what the actual demand is for both cities” Professor Hadi says.

Unfortunate obstacles

Professor Hadi and his team are facing some challenges. The unexpected construction of new apartment buildings hamper the project. “Especially in the eastern part of Surabaya, they are now building apartment complexes and we were never alerted to this” Professor Hadi says. “Now there is a lot of work to be done, because I cannot predict how much water is to be supplied”, he says. “When the apartments are occupied, the people who live next door might have access to less water, or maybe no water at all”. In Mozambique, Mr. Cossa experienced challenges of a different nature. “I think it is really hard to comprehend the scientific data we acquire and use it effectively, or translate it for everyone to understand”. Additionally, Mr. Cossa says there were difficulties with collecting data. “In our country, we have problems with data collection, because there is no general databank in which this information is stored, or it does not exist, so it is also difficult to actually find data”.

A positive outlook

Even though both parties face challenges, they are both positive that they can overcome them. In the case of Surabaya and Gresik, “from our findings the local water supplier, PDAM, will probably make changes in the distribution system and relieve some pressure from the traditional water source”. He further adds that “PDAM Surabaya has a new director who is eager to implement long term solutions to avoid water scarcity occurring in the region”.  Mr. Cossa further adds that “overall I definitely think this project will have a positive impact on our cities”. With the information and knowledge obtained during the projects, local water supply companies can make alterations to their existing systems. “Hopefully, with our findings we can start some kind of pilot, and later implement our findings on a national level, not just for our cities.”

Click here for more information on the project.