Cape wine farm moves to recycle its waste water

The large Lourensford wine farm near Somerset West, owned by business entrepreneur Christo Wiese, has embarked on the South African wine industry’s first fully-fledged waste water recovery project that will see the creation of two hectares of man-made wetlands in order to recover 24 000 cubic meters of waste water per year from its wine cellar.

According to Lourensford wine microbiologist Hannes Nel, waste water is a growing problem in the South African wine industry.

“Not only is legislation regarding the treatment of waste water becoming increasingly stringent as government’s insistence on the sustainable use of the

environment grows stronger, but in the Western Cape it has become essential to

recycle water wherever possible,” explained Nel.

“We have teamed up with the relevant government departments with a view to future legislation. We hope that, in time, the project will become a showcase for the rest of the industry. Currently waste water flows directly into municipal sewage systems and has to meet certain standards of purity and oxygen content.
If not, the fees levied for dumping such water into the municipal systems increase exponentially.

“What’s more, the waste water from cellars with a production capacity of more than 1 000 tons of grapes is placing these systems under increasing pressure. Since Lourensford’s cellar is designed to handle up to 5 000 tons, we had to find an alternative solution.”

Nel said Lourensford already purifies its waste water to a certain level by removing all solids with the use of filters and settling ponds. However, there were only two options for purifying water to the required level for re-use: installing a bioreactor at great expense or creating a man-made wetland in which the water is purified naturally by the reeds and other water plants and the oxygen levels are returned to normal.

This environmentally friendly approach involves channelling water into a winding, waterproof channel. A closed system is used to prevent the water from oozing out into the ground and contaminating the ground water. After the initial construction costs, maintenance is minimal.

Some wine cellars in Australia and California have turned similar man-made wetlands into tourist attractions in their own right by landscaping the environment with waterfalls, pools, trees and lawns. Many of these are also home to exotic fish.

Lourensford would be taking the same approach, with an environmental consultant and landscape architect assisting in transforming the wetland into a tourist attraction. Although the standards set for purified water from Lourensford’s wetland were such that it could safely be used again in the cellar, it would mainly be used for irrigation, he added. - I-Net Bridge

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