China recognizes need for pro-active monitoring of algae

13 March 2012

Algal levels in a South African (Free State Province) river measured using a bbe BenthoTorch (Image courtesy Toni Belcher)

Levels of algae in surface waters are increasing worldwide as a consequence of water pollution.  One of the most common consequences of this is an increase in algal development, often to problematical levels that include the occurrence of very dangerous algal toxins.  Until recently it was only possible to determine the levels of algal growth, or the types of algae present, from samples analyzed in a laboratory.  This can take days before a result is obtained, by which time the conditions in the source water may have changed, for better or worse.

Now, it is possible to do this at the lake or river, in seconds!

Read more »

97% of Cumbrian wetlands in horrific condition

13 March 2012

While southern England labours under a ‘hose-pipe’ water restriction ban, affecting almost a third of the population, a worrying report has revealed that almost all of the upland wetlands in Cumbria are seriously degraded.

This could have an impact on water quality, wildlife habitats and carbon storage across the county, according to the two-year study by volunteers with Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

The trust’s volunteers found that rare wetland species which rely on the Lake District as their stronghold were declining, including an insect called the oblong-leaved sundew. Causes identified include heavy grazing and past drainage and bracken encroachment.

The full report it available online to view at

Water Crisis threats taken on by industry

13 March 2012

Droplets is increasingly gratified that the warnings about the impending water crisis that we and others have consistently made during the past few years, are finally being heeded.  While our Water Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, attends the World Water Forum meetings dealing with the global water crisis, calls are being made for South African industries to act before it is too late [see WWF6 Website].

About 85% of water-intensive users among the JSE’s Top 100 companies are exposed to water-related risk, with 70% believing that their operations could be directly affected in the near term, a report revealed on Monday. Read more »

Is Lesotho selling its lifeblood too cheaply?

13 March 2012

Lesotho, South Africa’s landlocked mountain neighbor, provides a lifeline to this country by supplying water of the highest quality to our economic and industrial heartland.  This water is captured by a massive and growing water scheme set out in the Lesotho highlands.  I believe that an offset benefit of this enormous project would have been financial relief to the country and to the peoples displaced or affected as a consequence of its construction.

However, despite this seemingly-assured source of national income, things are not financially-healthy in Lesotho.  Twenty-five percent of the population now need humanitarian aid, a figure that has doubled in less than two years. Sixty percent of the population exist below the poverty line.   Pan-African News Wire reports that: Read more »

The desalination option needs to be taken with an (expensive) pinch of salt

10 March 2012

As far as I can see, arguments for desalinization tend to ignore the need to exhaust all other options first.  Just because there is a lot of seawater lying around does not make it a silver bullet for solving freshwater scarcity problems. Read more »

Small-scale floating island veggie gardens a tasty success!

10 March 2012

Small-scale plant trials, 4 weeks of growth (Photo: Bill Harding)

DH Environmental has been experimenting with small-scale, semi-hydroponic cultivation of various vegetables, using Floating Islands and liquid organic plant food.  The purpose of the trials is two-fold: to see what grows best and also to track the uptake of fertilizer over time.  The original trials were solely root-fed, i.e. nutrients taken from the water, whereas the current batch have solar-powered, 12 volt, micro-jet irrigation to boost foliar feeding. Read more »

Inaction over water quality issues will cost dearly

9 March 2012

There has been much debate over the accuracy underlying the anticipated “costs” of implementing water pollution rules in Florida.  In any country, such protections are likely to cost more than we think – mainly because the issue has been avoided for so long. Many countries, my own (South Africa) included, still have a massive and unpleasant wake-up call coming their way.

In Florida, scientists have concluded that

whatever the expense turns out to be it would be small compared to the ultimate cost of restoring Florida’s waters. (Source: TheRepublic). Read more »

Challenge for Mayors to become ‘water-wise’

9 March 2012

Here’s a nice idea that could inspire publicly-elected officials to do something about the impending Water Crisis in South Africa:

The USA’s Mayors Challenge for Water Conservation is a merit-worthy initiative which, hopefully, divert public attention away from the pre-election garbage that is inundating TV channels and focus it on something important (Source: WaterOnline).

With the nation facing $1Trillion (!) in water infrastructure improvements in the next 20 years, a group of federal, non-profit, and local organizations are asking mayor’s across the nation to compete next month to see who can inspire the most residents in their cities to become the most “water wise.”

The mayors earn bragging rights about winning the Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, a non-profit competition, March 30-April 30, to see which leaders can best inspire their residents to make a series of informative, easy-to-use online pledges aimed at drastically slashing water and energy use across the nation — and in return residents can win a new Toyota Prius Hybrid, water saving fixtures, and hundreds of other prizes. The program is in support of the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

With support from Toyota, US EPA, US Forest Service, NOAA, National Geographic Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle, and eco-conscious companies, mayors nationwide are encouraged to challenge their residents to conserve water, save energy, and reduce pollution on behalf of their city at throughout the month of April. The cities of Los Angeles, Honolulu, Redondo Beach, and Honolulu were among the first to accept the challenge. Other mayors are following suit by issuing council resolutions, creating steering committees, and using the city’s “highest” seat to urge their residents to save water, energy, and reduce pollution.

How about South African industrialists sponsoring something similar?

Oh, so NOW there’s a water crisis?

7 March 2012

This was the official response just a year or so ago!

Perhaps better late than never, South Africa’s Minister of Water Affairs has finally conceded that there is a Water Crisis in this country (Source: TimesLive), something Droplets and others have been warning about for years now – but which has been vehemently-denied until now (but we all know that when this government denies anything, more often than not a major problem exists).

Typically, though, the warning issued by the Minister centers on quantity issues, again blindly ignoring the fact that quantity (water availability) is already compromised by quality constraints, limits that are increasing at an alarming rate.  Water quality issues will limit availability long before the projected quantity (demand-based) projections are reached.

Once the Minister gets her head around this fundamental issue, then only will real progress be made.  As other analysts have shown (see How to Keep South Africa’s Head above [Dirty] Water), if we deal with the quality issues soon, we can offset a lot of major problems down the (very short) road ahead of us!

I see the Water Research Commission is to spend lots of money studying the situation again, this as opposed to actually also getting on with interventions to address pollution issues in the known hotspots.

Floating islands could boost “sustainability” of wine making

5 March 2012

The South African wine "sustainability seal"

A new-ish concept in South African wine making has been the introducing of an accreditation ‘seal’ validating the environmental sensitivity applied to producing the plonk (see YouTube video).  An element of this, a very important one, assesses the treatment of winery and farm effluents – a major ecological disruptor if not properly processed before being dumped into the nearest stream.

How floating islands work

As with mining effluents, for example the high levels of nitrates created by blasting, floating islands provide a very effective and attractive means of processing effluents without too much effort.  Most sites already have effluent ponds, all that needs to be done is for the islands to be planted up and floated in.

Newly-planted floating islands in effluent ponds

And, of course, floating islands provide a slew of additional benefits in that the stuff you grow on them can be eaten or sold.

Vegetables growing amazingly on floating islands! (Photo: Bill Harding)

For more information, please contact South Africas’ floating island distributor (