STEM kits – the secret agent for MAD challenges

MAD? Monitoring, analysis and decisionmaking – what we need to make sure alternative water sources are safe.

Examples: The MudWatt, Dough Lab or BioGlow by Magical Microbes

Nintendo Labo

Many of these may be too expensive or not quite right for developing countries or routine use, but they are a good start to optimise from.

Do you know of others? Let us know in the comments!

1001 South African Stories

1001 South African Stories is a project that uses storytelling as a mechanism to connect South Africans.

Through oral history we explore South Africa’s troubled and complex history. More contemporary personal narratives help to unpack South Africa’s present.

The aim of the project is to contribute to a more cohesive and inclusive understanding of South Africa’s history.

1001 SA stories on Facebook, Youtube, Soundcloud


AquaSavvy founder speaks of the need to tell stories during Cape Town’s water crisis: Bernelle Verster on soundcloud



Let’s talk regeneration

Let’s Talk Regeneration is a multimedia campaign and web discussion series that supports the creation of a Long-Term Regenerative Plan for South Africa. It is an invitation to dream and a call to action, awakening the more beautiful world we all desire.

Let’s Talk Regeneration features conversations with a bunch of awesome Re-generators: activists, academics, artists, designers, elders, farmers, scientists, economists, nature custodians, youth, exploring a spectrum of questions, themes and solutions.

The series paints a picture of what a regenerative world looks and feels like, suggests a pathway towards this world through ecological design and some simple steps to take along the path.

Our aim is to stimulate discussion and action towards regeneration on an ecological, social and personal level; and to support the formation of a regenerative storytelling network.

Join us on this journey to the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

Regenerative Conversations on Facebook

Let’s Talk Regeneration Web Discussion Series

Media Release: Gardens in times of drought, and towards water sensitivity


ALL green areas – whether planted landscapes, wild areas, or a road verge with weeds – contribute to the urban ecosystem. They are vital to our well-being: green areas produce air for us to breathe, they filter pollution, absorb storm water and reduce flooding, purify water and maintain a pleasant temperature. Without sufficient planted areas and infiltration – due to the many tarred and paved areas, and reflective surfaces – the city heats up. This is known as the urban heat island effect: pollution levels rise and our quality of life decreases. On summer days, especially when there is no wind, the raised temperature is already evident in the City Bowl, which is a few degrees hotter than the suburbs.

Gardens form an important part of the urban ecosystem and are not a luxury: they are a necessity. Green areas provide habitat for wildlife and are good for our well-being. Please do not feel guilty about gardening! We encourage anyone with access to alternative water sources, such as borehole or grey water, to use it responsibly to help maintain the urban ecosystem. Furthermore help spread awareness of its value and the importance of permeable surfaces for infiltration of rain. This will make a positive difference.

Some simple ways you can help preserve the urban ecosystem:

  1. Do not remove successful plants.Consider valuing plants for their resilience and ecological function, in addition to personal preference. A thriving common or weedy plant is better than nothing green at all!
  2. Mulch all planted areaswith a 5 to 10cm thick layer of mulch. This dramatically reduces water loss from the soil surface and keeps it cool. Organic mulches such as chipped wood and leaves are best, as they feed the soil and your plants.
  3. Keep areas planted, not paved. Consider how important it is for rainwater to infiltrate the soil: this is important for recharging groundwater (and good for trees) and keeps the ambient temperature down. Avoid hard surfaces where possible and use permeable pavingwhen a hard durable surface is required.
  4. If you do have a borehole, water deeply and infrequently. Mimic a good rainfall event of say 50mm and really saturate an area, with water penetrating at least 50-60cm into the soil. You may only need to do this every 3 to 4 weeks.

For more information on resilient landscaping and an educational quizz ‘How water-wise are you?’ please visit

Text by Marijke Honig, published as a media release, October 2017.

Shared as part of the Bridging Waters Conversation around the importance of trees for liveable cities (22 Feb 2018)

Trees reduce air pollution in the urban environment, absorb CO2 and shade roads to decrease heat sink aspects. (Clare Burgess)

Wild green belt / city parkland. (Marijke Honig)

Low maintenance road verge with no irrigation. (Marijke Honig)

Two local resilient plants species – Hermannia pinnata and Senecio crassulifolius. (Marijke Honig)


Mapping alternative water sources

Water sensitive design includes the use of fit-for-purpose water, and harvesting and/or storing water from various sources. In South Africa particularly we should reduce our dependence on surface water bodies (aka, dams). This presents an opportunity, but it also introduces a great amount of risk, particularly if these sources are more decentralised than what we are used to.

Our drinking water is treated at central locations before it is piped to our homes (if we are lucky to have piped water). That means that one central location manages this risk for us, and can afford the costs of accredited scientific analysis.

When we start looking at alternative sources of water, the analysis (and other) costs are carried by far less people and the relative cost of managing that risk increases.

To manage this risk in the urban environment, and help individuals manage this risk there are three complementary options:

  1. Map the water sources to illustrate what the likely contaminants and sources of risks are at a high resolution (as high as per dwelling, or perhaps more practically, per neighbourhood)
  2. Develop cheaper ways of analysis that, if it does not provide a complete picture, helps with qualitative information and shows when more tests are needed. Combined with the map, certain tests can have priority in certain applications, for example iron in groundwater, and E.coli in so-called springs.
  3. Appropriate point of use treatment technologies and strategies.

What exists in terms of mapping water sources?

As far as we know, there is no visual map, but databases do exist:

The National Groundwater Archive (NGA)- a database of the DWA’s monitoring locations plus any other borehole they have found through hydrocensus.  Drillers are supposed to register boreholes drilled on the database, but they rarely do.  It’s outdated, geographic accuracy is highly variable.  People used to use it as a starting point for doing a hydrocensus but you very rarely actually find the locations.  It’s more useful for understanding hydrogeological context of an area – there are drilling logs, water levels, water quality (mostly qualitative but some quantitative) etc.  It does include springs.
The WARMS database  where people who use water above a certain minimum level (as specified by the General Authorisations) have to register their water use.  The users have to fill in a form which is not very explicit as the data accuracy varies wildly – coordinates are often wrong, water use is sometimes per property and sometimes per borehole.
There are a bunch of groundwater maps available at 1:500 000 scale:
The hydrogeological map series is available in digital form, but we’re not sure where they originate from.
All of these are national level.
In Cape Town, the city has a database of people who have registered boreholes.  They now also require people to apply for permission before sinking a new wellpoint/borehole.  This dataset is not publicly available.
None of these, from what we can see, is on a map, and thus does not show any relationship with the quality of the water and its location.
Ultimately, however, this needs to be user driven, from the bottom-up, perhaps in addition to the registered information noted above. How can we do this?
What exists in terms of cheap, safe, user-friendly and robust tools for water quality analysis?
From what we’ve seen, not much.
There are different types of testing:
  1.  Electronic: Using sensors or probes that can include online or sim-enabled remote probes that can sample/measure dissolved oxygen, pH, electrical conductivity, total disssolved solids, salinity and voltage (if it runs on battery/solar power)
  2. Biosensors: Using biology to give a qualitative or quantitative signal, including the miniSASS, microbial cell counts, enzyme based processes etc
  3. Chemistry kits: examples include aquarium kits, swimming pool tests
  4. Visual investigation: through photography or microscopy
We’ve created an analysis challenge to improve what is available, please contribute:
What exists in terms of appropriate point of use water treatment technologies and strategies?
There is no single answer to this. The categories of treatment include:
  • Chemical (e.g. chlorine or ozone, and precipitation of e.g. iron salts),
  • Physical (filtration, including reverse osmosis, sand filtering)
  • Biological, which further can be categorised as bacterial, algal, macrophytes (wetland plants). One way of looking at this is how well-designed koi ponds function.

Adequate treatment invariably involves a combination of these, and while treating water to potable, or drinking water quality, the technology is similar to treating dirty water to protect the environment (like what happens in sewage works or koi ponds)

Mitchells Plain Hospital Landscape

Overall score: 54%

Located at the northern point of the Cape Flats Aquifer (CFA) this site drains stormwater to recharge the aquifer sustainably, while providing an indigenous healing landscape for the Mitchells Plain Hospital.

The site is testament to adaptation by engineers and landscape architects to create a water sensitive landscape, beautifully.

Who’s involved?
Tarna Klitzner Landscape Architect
Cape Contours Landscape Solutions (CCLS)
Client: Department of Transport and Public Works – Health

More info:
Top landscape award for Mitchells Plain (IOL)
Cape Town Green Map
Western Cape Government

How does it compare with the 17 Principles?

0 – Does not address this at all / unknown
1 – Potential to address this, but currently unaddressed
2 – The design addresses this, implementation can do more
3 – Integrated in the project, good implementation.

A. Regenerative Water Services:

A.1. Replenish Waterbodies and Their Ecosystems: 3. Stormwater recharge into aquifer.
A.2. Reduce the Amount of Water and Energy Used: 3. Waterwise indigenous vegetation.
A.3. Reuse, Recover, Recycle 3. Local rocks were re-used, plants were sourced and propagated from the site.
A.4. Use a Systemic Approach Integrated with Other Services: 3. Design incorporated sound engineering principles, and was appropriate to the healing landscape of the hospital.
A.5. Increase The Modularity of Systems and Ensure Multiple Options: 2. Multiple avenues for stormwater ingress as well as engineering required overflow grates.

Comment: What is the potential for the hospital’s operation to become more water sensitive?

B. Water Sensitive Urban Design:

B.1. Enable Regenerative Water Services: 3. Through the infiltration and the sandy underlying soil, the water is treated as it moves towards the aquifer.
B.2. Design Urban Spaces to Reduce Flood Risks 3. Reducing flood risk was central to this project’s design, through both the landscape architecture and the engineering ‘back-up’ infrastructure.
B.3. Enhance Liveability With Visible Water: 2. Being in a water scarce environment with high wind makes it hard to make water visible, along with concerns for safety.
B.4. Modify and Adapt Urban Materials to Minimise Environmental Impact: 2. Materials were sourced from site where possible for the landscape. Unknown about the actual building.

C. Basin Connected Cities:

C.1. Plan to Secure Water Resources and Mitigate Drought: 1. Drought mitigation through indigenous plants and aquifer recharge. Unknown site-use specific measures.
C.2. Protect the Quality of Water Resources: 0. Unknown.
C.3. Prepare for Extreme Events: 0. Unknown.

D. Water-Wise Communities:

D.1. Empowered Citizens:  0. unknown, is the local community and hospital management involved?
D.2. Professionals Aware of Water Co-Benefits: 0. Unknown.
D.3. Transdisciplinary Planning Teams: 2. The project addressed this, but continuing maintenance is uncertain.
D4. Policy Makers Enabling Water Wise Action: 0. Unknown. Has this project promoted policy change?
D.5. Leaders that Engage and Engender Trust: 0. Unknown.

Overall score: 54%

More info on what the criteria mean: The IWA 17 principles
Comments on this case study: Contact us

Please note: The aim of AquaSavvy is for the case studies to improve over time, along with educating the wider public. This scoring can, and should, improve with more information and more intervention.