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Unisa online - Making waves in water research

Making waves, from left: Seminar facilitator, Mr Lebea Rakobo and presenters, Ms Noncembo Mthombeni, Prof Francois Ilunga and Mr Pramod Sinha
Making waves, from left: Seminar facilitator, Mr Lebea Rakobo and presenters, Ms Noncembo Mthombeni, Prof Francois Ilunga and Mr Pramod Sinha

High-tech water purification, possible solutions to the sedimentation of dams (that renders them useless) and water resource management through hydrological data were in the spotlight at a seminar entitled Multi-disciplinarily in the water field. Hosted by the College of Science, Engineering and Technology’s Water Research Flagship on 07 August, the seminar sought to explore current issues in the water field from the perspective of different disciplines.

In his presentation on the issue of sedimentation (also known as siltation), Mr Pramod Sinha (Department of Civil Engineering) said that sedimentation has proved to be one of the most challenging problems experienced at the pumping stations which pump water directly from rivers. Rivers rich in silt (mud or clay particles suspended in the water), such as those in South Africa, gradually build up sedimentation on the bottom, and dams and reservoirs fed by these arteries eventually suffer the same fate. The sedimentation reduces flow and consumes storage capacity. Mr Sinha gave an overview of a scale model study he conducted (while at the Department of Water Affairs) at the Tienfontein pumping station in the Free State, one of the worst cases of sedimentation in the country. The study ultimately resulted in a temporary solution to the problem and provided insights to be explored in further research.

Ms Nomcebo Mthombeni (Department of Chemistry) discussed water disinfection using nanoparticles. She said that conventional disinfection methods had limitations, citing the energy consumption of and long exposure required for ultraviolet water purification, and the detrimental ecological effects of chemical disinfection. In her master’s degree research she investigated the use of resin beads coated with silver nanoparticles in a column filtration system as a way to deactivate microbes in drinking water. The experiment proved to be successful, and practical application and further refinement of this nano-solution would be the topic of future research studies.

Water Research Flagship team leader, Prof Francois Ilunga (Acting Chair of the Department of Civil and Chemical Engineering) spoke about the transfer of hydrologic information among rainfall stations in the Upper Orange River System. He explained that hydrological data, such as rainfall, plays an important role in water resources development and management. He outlined a study in which information transfer between stations was measured, and he said that the outcome of the current study, and future studies of this nature, would go a long way towards facilitating the more effective utilisation of resources such as rainfall stations.

Closing the session, Prof Ilunga said that water research is multidisciplinary in nature as it cuts across many fields. Experts from a variety of disciplines will share their insights at future seminars.

*Written by Philip van der Merwe

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