International Year of Water Co-operation

  • July 04, 2013

The United Nations has declared this the year of water co-operation to raise awareness, both on the potential for increased co-operation and the challenges facing water management as global demand increases.

Only 2,5% of the world's water is fresh water and these supplies are dwindling, according to Maropeng's maintenance manager, Robere Brockman, who adds that many African countries will be experiencing water shortages by 2025. "The onus is on all South Africans and particularly businesses to review their operations and consider how they can conserve water."

Conserving water resources is a major priority for Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. To commemorate the 2013 International Year of Water Co-operation, the centre is focusing on sustainability and greening the immediate environment by means of its innovative Subsurface Flow constructed wetland system.

The wetland system has been specially designed to assist in filtering and cleaning the site's grey and black water. This, through the purification process, is made potable for animals and is used to water grasslands at the Cradle of Humankind during dry periods.

Maropeng's maintenance manager, Robere Brockman

According to Brockman, fresh water usage is restricted to night and early mornings, and certain toilets on the property have the half-flush system to reduce wastage. "Wet waste from the kitchen is also being treated and utilised as compost around the property's gardens," he says. Meanwhile, at the Sterkfontein Caves, an ozone waste water purification system was introduced at the beginning of 2011 to replace septic tanks and provide a far more eco-friendly solution to waste management in the area. This system uses ozone to accelerate the breaking down of solids by bacteria, and to sterilise water.

Maropeng managing director Tony Rubin says these new technologies have had a positive effect on the conservation of the Cradle of Humankind. "We no longer need to have the effluent removed from the septic tanks on a weekly basis," he says. "This has effected cost savings."

Installing different technology means trying something new, which has been a learning curve for Maropeng, says Rubin. "We have learned that there are many ways to treat effluent – the biozone technology installed at Sterkfontein is achieving results beyond our expectations.

"The wetlands at Maropeng operate efficiently and have brought new birdlife onto the property, which would otherwise not be present at Maropeng," he continues. Making this system work takes a sustained effort. "We continually check water consumption on the property and do not irrigate when there is rain," says Rubin. "We are also looking at using the wetland's water for irrigation, but this is a long-term future project."

Maropeng was awarded a gold certificate of membership by the Heritage Environmental Management Company for its commitment to sustainable business practices. This certifies that Maropeng is a member of the Heritage Environmental Rating Programme and that it currently complies with the environmental performance standards associated with the programme's gold classification. The environmental audit process Maropeng underwent to receive its gold certificate status is extensive – all operations are rated, from management systems to biodiversity management, purchasing and procurement.

Besides learning about the origins of humankind, it is hoped that a visit to Maropeng will motivate visitors to care for the environment. "By highlighting the eco-friendly work that is done at the Cradle of Humankind," says Rubin, "we hope to inspire visitors to follow this example, and to encourage them to consider their carbon footprint and think of ways to conserve the environment."

For more information about Maropeng education and conservation initiatives, see www.maropeng.co.za.

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