Integrated Water Resources Management in The “Middle Olifants” River Basin, South Africa

Level: Regional
Region: Africa
Tags: Capacity building & knowledge transfer | Planning & Policy
Target audience: Citizens | Water authorities | Water companies


The Middle Olifants project area is a river catchment to the north-east of Pretoria, with a large number of high-intensity water consumers; households, large scale farming, mining (including one of the largest platinum mines in the world) and tourism. The high water demand results in overexploitation and pollution of water resources. During dry periods, downstream water users sometimes have to reduce consumption to prevent harm to the population and the environment (e.g. in the Kruger National Park). Many wastewater treatment plants are are not operating, so that untreated wastewater further impairs water quality.

The main project aim was to develop an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) plan to help water users reduce their volume of consumption. The main research objective was to increase the added value of all water-related activities in a sustainable manner.

IWRM South Africa produced a complete management concept consisting of three main modules: a Water Resources Module (WRM) for calculating the amount of available water, taking aspects of water quality into account; a Water Allocation Module (WAM) governing water distribution; and a Water Intervention Measures Module (WIM), featuring technical and institutional measures for improving the situation in the target area. WIM also includes a water franchise concept for initiating technology transfer from experienced water supply utilities to local companies.

Results obtained

  • Developed decision-support tools (e.g. a web-based risk assessment tool).
  • Produced a detailed water resource model (WRM), including water quality aspects.
  • Developed a mobile online laboratory to monitor water quality and compliance with legal regulations.
  • Water policy reform had positive effects.
  • Introduced water intervention measures, especially in the field of wastewater treatment (e.g. vacuum rotation membrane (VRM) pilot facility).
  • Developed operations and maintenance guidelines and refurbishment concepts (e.g. for wastewater treatment plants to increase cleaning efficiency).
  • HUBER VRM® membrane bioreactor was demonstrated and tested in the project region.

Success factors

  • Expertise of the project partners - IWRM requires representatives from different water-related areas, which in this case were: environment, engineering, ecology, management, water resource modelling, research, information systems and analysis.
  • Water departments, universities and wastewater technologists all worked on this project to make it a success.

Indicators used

  • Economic effects of IWRM.
  • Effects of more efficient water usage.
  • Impacts of transaction costs on the success of water policy reforms and on water quality.

The successful implementation of IWRM depends on the creation of suitable local structures. These structures have to include technical and legal working conditions necessary to assure the sustainable operations and maintenance of water facilities, but also economic incentives and sources of financing at the local level.