National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

The Centre for Water Resources Research

For providing a centre of excellence for cutting edge applied and interdisciplinary research and postgraduate training in water resources-related research and capacity building

A contribution to new knowledge, skilled graduates and tools for better water management flows from the Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“I think all of us recognise that water is probably the most critical resource in South Africa,” says the Director of the CWRR, Prof Jeff Smithers.

“We have for a long time been living with demand for water exceeding the supply and availability, and this has been exacerbated by deteriorating water governance and maintenance of water infrastructure, such as distribution networks and waste water treatment works. At the CWRR we are trying to narrow that gap, by developing improved water management practices and governance,” says Smithers.

As agriculture is the biggest user of water in South Africa, the CWRR puts significant resources into modelling water systems related to agricultural production, such as irrigation. They assess how land-use, climate change and catchment management impact on water availability and quality. 

Smithers says that through research and innovation, we can make improvements in water use efficiency, for example in irrigation, which would make water available to meet other demands.

The CWRR has done detailed modelling of water systems to estimate the impact of different tree species on runoff, and on the amount of water that fills up dams. “This estimate of the impacts of afforestation on runoff is currently being used by the Department of Water and Sanitation to determine charges for stream flow reduction caused by the forest industry.”

They’ve also looked into the potential impacts of climate change on crop yields and on the amount of water available from catchments. “There’s a lot of uncertainty given the range of predictions that are coming from different climate change models,” he says, “and the consequences vary across the country.

“What we really aim to do is to make sure we are generating new knowledge and improved understanding, in order to develop tools and data information systems that can be used by industry.”

Since 2012, a total of 63 Honours, 59 Master’s and 33 PhD students working on CWRR projects have graduated, with expertise in hydrology and related earth and engineering sciences.

“In terms of human capacity development, I think we’ve made a significant contribution,” says Smithers. “There has been a lot of new knowledge generated and capacity developed with postgraduate studies, giving us a new understanding of hydrological processes and water resources management.”

The Centre for Water Resource Research won the NSTF-WRC award for a contribution by an individual or an organisation towards sustainable water management, knowledge generation and solutions over the last 5 to 10 years. The award has been sponsored by the WRC since 2017.
— ScienceLink

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

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