High-yield boreholes put beach resorts well on way to water security

Two of Tsogo Sun’s premier beach resorts are adding their weight to the growing number of initiatives that corporates, local governments and homeowners in South Africa are taking to develop innovative solutions to the country’s water crisis.

Cabana Beach and Umhlanga Sands, both situated in the popular seaside destination of Umhlanga in KwaZulu-Natal, already have an array of water-saving measures in place, but have taken a further step in the effort to enhance water security – by using purified, on-site borehole groundwater on scale to reduce their impact and reliance on drought-threatened municipal dams.

Cabana Beach’s borehole and filtration unit are currently operational, while Umhlanga Sands’ system is due to be on stream in time for the summer high-season this year. It is estimated that the boreholes will supply between 60% -70% of the resorts’ potable water – and, in quieter periods, as much as 90%.

Louise Otto, Deputy General-Manager at Cabana Beach, and Rajesh Mathura, Maintenance Manager, explained that the decision to sink a borehole on the property was made in 2017 in response to KwaZulu-Natal’s low rainfall and declining dam levels. An immediate concern was to minimise the risk of water outages; in the long term, the resort is mandated to be water-wise and “take responsibility for ensuring savings on our total water consumption”.

Given how close Cabana Beach is to the sea – a mere 450 metres away – desalination was considered as a theoretical possibility, but rejected for its cost and complexity. Instead, Louise said, “We chose a borehole as the most viable option for providing good-quality drinking water in an efficient way.”

At the outset, though, it was not certain that a borehole would be viable either. Consultants were hired to begin exploratory drilling in October 2017, but given, once again, that the resort borders on the shoreline, there were worries that they would wind up drilling into seawater, or water otherwise too saline and uneconomical to process. Samples were sent for laboratory testing, and the outcome awaited with anticipation. “Luckily, we have very-good-quality water,” Rajesh said.

The good luck didn’t end there: not only did the resort strike a viable source of groundwater, but twice as much of it as had been bargained on.

“The team who did this are very experienced,” Rajesh recalled. “They used dowsing sticks – that old technique of finding water underground – and in fact discovered two streams rather than one. They then drilled down into the ground directly to where the streams cross. We hit our first strike at 70 metres down and the second, at 90 metres, both just below bedrock.”

In terms of its initial plan, Cabana Beach would have been pleased with a yield of 4,000 litres an hour. The groundwater windfall, however, made the actual yield truly a case of “well beyond expectation”. “We’re averaging 8,000 litres an hour,” Rajesh said. “That’s our borehole capacity.”

After the drilling and testing were completed, a water-treatment facility was erected and piping laid to feed the output into the resort’s potable storage tank. In a further stroke of good fortune, the two subterranean streams happen to converge conveniently close to this tank, making it much less of a job to get the water out of the ground, purified, monitored and circulating through Cabana Beach’s 217 timeshare units. The system went fully operational in December: between then and August 2108, it had extracted an impressive 34 million litres of groundwater.

“On days out of season, when the resort is not busy, we can supplement 70% of our total consumption from the borehole,” Rajesh said, “and when we are even less busy, it can go up to 90%. When we are very busy and all the rooms are full to capacity, we’re still using only a minimum of municipal water.”

At the neighbouring Umhlanga Sands, similar developments are under way – and with the prospect of similarly high yields of borehole water.

Derek McKillop, the General Manager, said the resort had begun its own, parallel process in May 2018, when a borehole was sunk to a depth of 100 metres and struck “a good quantity of water” promising an estimated capacity of 74 kilolitres a day.

The test results were likewise favourable, and in August the resort’s management board gave the go-ahead for a filtration plant to be built for the borehole. Among the next steps would be registering the borehole with the municipality and following other necessary safety-compliance procedures.

The borehole, Derek explained, “will give us around 60% of our current water usage”, with “the pay-back time” for return on investment forecast as one year. He highlighted, however, that this was but the latest addition to a range of other water-wise measures at Umhlanga Sands, including rainwater-harvesting tanks and a greywater system that together accumulate about 20,000 litres a day. These had been implemented over the years, particularly so since the structural renovations that the resort undertook in 2012 – a stage at which Umhlanga Sands dramatically increased its on-site water storage capacity from nine hours to four days, and thus its ability to cope with challenges such as burst municipal pipes and drought-related outages. Once the borehole system is up and running, this will be an even bigger boost to the resort’s self-sustainability and uninterruptable functionality.

“We’re extremely conscious of our energy and water consumption,” Derek said – a point that Louise Otto at Cabana Beach strongly echoed: while the borehole is a major addition to the resort’s water -management arsenal, it is doesn’t work in isolation but supports, and is supported by, other initiatives.

Over and above its borehole, Cabana Beach too has its greywater system and rainwater tanks, along with showerhead flow restrictors. “But there is also a large amount of training we do with our staff on water issues,” Louise said. “We educate our guests too, for example by putting cards in the rooms advising them to hang up their wet towels to dry rather having them re-laundered every day.”

As for the borehole itself, although installed only recently it has already undergone enhancement –run-off water from the treatment plant is being used to irrigate the resort’s grounds rather than go to waste. “We’re getting the absolute maximum out of our borehole water,” Rajesh said. Indeed, when every drop is precious, this is how things have to be done: by squeezing maximal yield from minimal resources, and with one smart solution leading the way for the next.

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