The African water sector’s growing need for integrated solutions from multi-disciplinary teams has led to the creation of a Water and Environmental Technology (WET) unit at SRK Consulting, streamlining the company’s capabilities in vital sectors.
Underpinning this move is the growing complexity of water management in South Africa and beyond, a field in which SRK has developed considerable expertise over many decades, according to Manda Hinsch, partner and principal scientist at SRK Consulting. The new unit now leverages the experience of the company’s water scientists with the related skills base of its Pretoria strategic business unit (SBU).
“While SRK’s wide range of professional disciplines continue to be relevant in their own right, the market today requires a more integrated approach,” said Hinsch. “For instance, our water management expertise is applied in areas from tailings storage facilities (TSFs) to disaster management – and our WET unit reflects that shift.”
James Lake, WET SBU partner and principal scientist at SRK Consulting, highlighted that water supply has become a critical issue in Southern Africa – with many clients becoming more proactive about their water management strategies.
“The configuration of our new WET unit allows closer collaboration among our professionals with their respective skill sets,” said Lake. He highlighted the value of such teamwork in addressing mine closure, especially in the light of the recent Global Industry Standards on Tailings Management (GISTM).
Hydrology and environmental engineering
“In our mine closure planning for TSFs, we are guided by the strong GISTM focus on water management of the facility at closure,” he explained. “This requires a range of inputs from the hydrologists in the WET unit.”
This work includes the development of simulated rainfall data to inform the probable maximum flood (PMF) event and to undertake routing of the flood events. They would also develop management plans to limit upgradient runoff flowing onto the facility, as well as develop plans to safely discharge rainfall from the facility.
“Future erosion activity over a design life of 300 years also requires geotechnical consideration, with landform evolution modelling by one of our environmental engineers,” he said. “We also provide geochemical inputs to couple with unsaturated flow modelling, to understand the risk of salts leaching from the TSF into groundwater.”
He added that information from the WET unit was used in conjunction with stability data developed by other SRK experts – allowing the company’s engineering geology (ENGEO) unit to develop conceptual closure plans.
The GISTM has also placed added responsibility on stakeholders to develop emergency preparedness and response plans, according to SRK Consulting senior technologist Andries Fourie. The WET unit works with SRK’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) and ENGEO teams to help clients achieve compliance with these disaster management aspects of the GISTM, said Fourie.
“This included site visits and dam break analysis to understand the affected area and determine the vulnerabilities of communities close to TSFs,” he said. “The work aims to ensure a shared state of readiness among stakeholders, and to even identify alternative rescue services where public sector capacity in an area is low.”
The consolidation of the WET team has also built the capacity necessary to tackle a recent fast-tracked assessment of stormwater management measures at key infrastructure points for a client, according to partner and principal hydrologist Peter Shepherd.
“This project required numerous site visits, flood assessments, additional technical drawing and GIS skills,” said Shepherd. “The size and composition of the integrated team allowed us to bring the relevant expertise to bear and meet the demanding timeframe.”
In another water supply project, SRK Consulting’s WET unit worked with the company’s Eastern Cape Business Unit on a water resources study for a dam in that province.
“We conducted detailed hydrological and hydraulic investigations of the dam to determine its supply potential, and to help inform decisions on abstracting water to supply nearby towns,” said Joyce Mathole, senior water scientist at SRK Consulting. “Our team determined the streamflow into the dam, which as input into the yield model so that the available water for sustainable abstraction could be ascertained.”
Climate change and green technologies
SRK’s WET unit has also been involved in the green energy sector in southern Africa, recently assisting clients to apply for environmental clearance to proceed with a green hydrogen project. The work included both an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and a public participation process, according to Laetitia Coetser, principal scientist at SRK Consulting.
“Globally, green hydrogen is seen as imperative for the transition to cleaner economies and reducing reliance on fossil fuels, especially within the transport industry,” said Coetser. “The transition to green hydrogen production is in its infancy, and economies of scale will drive growth in this market.”