Civil Engineering - Importance of the big picture

Importance of the big picture - addressing water security in the Amajuba District


The Amajuba District Municipality (ADM) area in northern KwaZulu-Natal is characterised by a range of settlement types from very scattered and remote to densely populated areas – many of which are challenged by backlogs in water infrastructure. There is particular difficulty in getting water services to rural inhabitants in mountainous areas where settlements are located some distance from each other.

Providing water by means of tanker services is proving to be an expensive and unsustainable option to the ADM. Since 2012, the ADM has been working with SRK Consulting on a number of projects that provide integrated longer-term and economically feasible solutions to address water demands in the rural communities.


The strategic objective of ADM as a Water Services Authority is – like many municipalities – to address the provision of potable water and sanitation services to communities in need. Working in partnership with SRK, the ADM is able to leverage SRK’s detailed knowledge of the area, its terrain and its water resources – based on an intensive desktop assessment and field verification, followed by a number of years of practical engagement in the area.

It has also been important to align the proposed interventions with the priorities of the municipality – to conform with its Integrated Development Plan (IDP) and its Water Services Development Plan (WSDP). This is a key aspect of understanding client requirements and constantly being aware of broader imperatives to be served.


While initially considering options like bulk water pipelines to remote areas, followed by local reticulation systems, the ADM took advice from SRK to rather begin the process with a broader view, commencing with desktop assessments that would include looking at work previously done by consultants in the area. SRK gathered the baseline data for the district, including groundwater characterisations based on geophysical investigations, borehole drilling and yield testing, ascertaining yields of springs and a water demand verification of all households and water infrastructure.

A dynamic plan was formulated, designed to change as information was updated and added; the ADM was amenable to this approach, which allowed SRK to put a foundation of knowledge in place that would set the scene for longer-term interventions. This would facilitate better continuity in terms of service delivery. SRK has thus designed and implemented a number of projects for ADM that enhance water security for rural communities.

The client therefore provided SRK the time early on to parcel information more systematically and generate specific strategies to address the water backlog. We identified high-yielding boreholes which met the standards for potable water supply, which could be used to target surrounding communities, for instance, to have a more effective impact from each intervention.

Spring developments with gravity-fed water systems comprised another strategy that suited the situation, allowing existing water resources to be harnessed without expensive drilling, construction or sophisticated equipment. In some cases, the springs were the water sources around which communities had originally settled. We then had to formalise these by installing storage units and design gravity-fed reticulation to the extremities of the community.

We leveraged the work already done by other consultants and contractors over the years; this included the drilling of boreholes, the rehabilitation of some windmill and numerous hand-pump projects. Much of this infrastructure was in disrepair, but some of it could be relatively quickly returned to service – once we re-tested the yields and ensured that water quality was compliant with minimum standards. Some of the boreholes tested were escalated to bigger reticulation schemes.

The scope involves not just the groundwater studies and scheme design, but comprises a turn-key service in which the overseeing of project implementation is provided by SRK’s civil engineers and scientists.


Many of the settlements served by these projects are located too far from Eskom’s main electricity grid to allow power connections for pumping purposes; we therefore installed solar powered schemes where feasible. To address the issue of theft and vandalism, besides installing a medium level of protection, we worked closely with communities to ensure they took ownership of these assets and collaborated in protecting them.

Where possible, for instance, solar panels were installed within the boundaries of a property where they can be easily seen and monitored, and where there is human traffic, to discourage theft; this approach has proved successful. Community buy-in generally allows for a more successful deployment of this kind of technology.

A vital aspect of gaining a broad and integrated grasp of the operational context was to understand the potential – or supply capabilities – of the natural systems. This included calculating the sustainable yields that can potentially be extracted from boreholes on very conservative abstraction scenarios. We generally adopted a water balance approach – considering recharge, aquifer hydraulic parameters and other water uses, including the groundwater ‘reserve’ requirements.

Spring developments could be kept simple – initially protecting the source to keep livestock away to avoid contamination – to feed water to a bulk storage facility from where it gravitates down to tap-stands around the community; we use isolation and air valve chambers for the purposes of checking and problem-solving, but the system is robust and straightforward.

For the hand-pumps and water schemes, the state of disrepair of some of the water-related equipment generally results from a lack of community training and capacity building in monitoring and maintenance of mechanical items. Often in the past, there have not been formal communication channels with the municipality to alert them to any breakdowns that need repair. In a more effective hand-over process, community members can now be made aware of what to do when something goes wrong – so that the system can be returned to use.


Working closely with the client, a number of different projects have been tackled using a flexible and dynamic approach. Technical managers and water specialists at ADM, in conjunction with traditional leadership and ward councillors, have provided the impetus by which projects are prioritised.

The populations served by spring systems that SRK has installed could be as small as three households comprising about 20 people, ranging up to 30 or more households of about 300 people.

In 2015, we serviced a total of 119 rural households – comprising 931 people – with water from spring systems. If the borehole projects are included in the total, then SRK’s work for the ADM in 2015 was able to serve a total of 199 households, or about 2 000 people. In 2016, that figure rose dramatically to almost 9 400 rural dwellers in 1 472 households. The planned beneficiaries of this work in 2017/2018 will potentially rise further to over 19 500 rural dwellers in 3 256 households.

In these projects, water reaches the residents through tap-stand installations conforming to the RDP Standard, at a maximum of 200 metres from the furthest household.


A collaborative partnership between the ADM and SRK has allowed for a flexible and dynamic approach to be adopted in addressing the district’s water security requirements. Practical and integrated solutions are provided alongside ongoing engagement with community structures and stakeholders to ensure buy-in and co-operation, which in turn leads to protection and longer life of assets.

The baseline of data generated and maintained by SRK has created a foundation for more effective conceptualisation, design and implementation of appropriate solutions in both the short and longer term. This approach has also ensured value for money in terms of the ADM’s infrastructure spending, and a more sustainable impact on the largest possible number of beneficiaries within the ADM area.

Thanda Zulu - Technical Director: Amajuba District Municipality
Siphamandla Mabizela - Project Manager: Amajuba District Municipality
Raven Kisten – project manager SRK Consulting
Riona Singh – project co-ordinator SRK Consulting
Lizette Goosen – field hydrogeologist SRK Consulting
Thula Nembula – social scientist SRK Consulting

The SRK Durban office has also drawn on the resources of SRK’s Eastern Cape and Johannesburg offices in this work, from field technicians to hydrogeologists, with team sizes building up to twelve professional staff at any one time.

Civil Engineering - Importance of the big picture

Sagadevan Raven Kisten - Partner / Principal Scientist / Hydrogeologist


SRK Africa