Maskam, the northern point of the Matzikama Mountains in Namaqualand, is a Khoisan term that means “it gives water”, which is exactly what the company Maskam Water does. Maskam began in turf irrigation nearly 40 years ago, but changed tack because of the demand for alternative water sources. Its sustainable water solutions have now become the norm in the alternative water solution sector and are addressing sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest environmental concern. Soon after the first fusion treatment plant was imported and installed in 2010 its potential became apparent and, by 2016, Maskam was manufacturing them. Fusion is the greenest way of treating wastewater because it uses very little energy, is low maintenance and has a small carbon footprint. Maskam has been working with the Western Cape government and GreenCape for years to provide dignified sanitation to informal and rural communities. Its fusion treatment plants are now treating and recycling two million litres of wastewater a day, diverting wastewater from groundwater and surface water courses. Maskam has also come up with an innovative grey water system that reduces potable water consumption, diverts thousands of litres from municipal sewers and has a small carbon footprint. The grey water treatment process is also 100% biological. Maskam also provides a UV water treatment solution for pools that eliminates the need for chlorine, thus reducing discharge of chemicals that are harmful to the environment. At the forefront of change, the company is helping people rethink their relationship to a most valuable asset — water.
What’s been your/the organisation’s greatest achievement in your field?
The greatest achievement is not a single event or single product, but rather a journey. Our journey in the water industry started in 1994, doing turf irrigation. It was on request from customers that our services expanded over years to include alternative water sources, stretching from grey water systems to rainwater harvesting, digging wells and much more. This continuous expansion resulted in the founding of Maskam Water in 2010, to cater for a much bigger market. The biggest achievement lies in how we helped shape the water sector to become more sustainable and more resilient. Over the past 14 years the Maskam Water team and I constantly engaged with role players on different levels and from many different spheres of life, including end users, specifiers, professionals and regulators. When we started on this journey back in 2009, we were told “No” quite often. Many people believed there was no future for alternative water solutions, hence this concept will never be accepted by professionals nor the government. Today we are still moving in the same direction, doing what we believed in back then, but now what we have been doing for years is fast becoming the norm. Like alternative power generation, our sustainable water solutions have become the norm in most cities, towns and even the most remote locations of the African landscape. Back in 2009 we were seen as swimming upstream, today we are seen as market leaders.
On a number of occasions, we were told that if it was not for us constantly pushing boundaries, the sustainable alternative water solution sector would not have progressed at the speed it did. Our greatest achievement is thus not an event, but rather a new way of living that we are driving, and it is not limited to our solution offering but beneficial for the entire water industry and consumers alike.
Please provide specific examples of how your organisation’s practices and work have a positive effect on the environment
The easiest way to elaborate on this, is to categorise it by product line followed by what we do as a company.
1. Our Fusion on-site wastewater treatment plants installed to date can treat and recycle two million litres of wastewater a day, with another million to be added over the next 12 months. Most of the on-site treated wastewater is re-used. That means the demand for potable water is reduced by two million litres a day, reducing pressure on our fresh water supply systems and significantly reducing the water carbon footprint of our customers. Some may argue that water does not have a carbon footprint, and they are right. But infrastructure — from dams and pumping stations to pipelines and treatment plants — do have a carbon footprint, both in infrastructure and the operation thereof. With on-site treatment and re-use, we cut out the need to have a sewer infrastructure, thus reducing the carbon footprint of wastewater and by re-using the water on-site, less water has to be pumped over long distances, also contributing to carbon reduction. The treatment process is 100% biological; no chemicals are used.
2 Our in-house designed grey water system diverts thousands of litres of grey water from municipal sewers and reduces potable water by the same amount on a daily basis. Not only does this contribute to diverting wastewater from our water courses but it also allows customers to flush toilets when municipal water is not available and keep their gardens green even during dry periods. This reduces the need to pump grey water over long distances for treatment and then bringing potable water over long distances for irrigation purposes. The combined savings in building and operating such infrastructure has a huge positive environmental impact. The grey water treatment process is also 100% biological.
3. The range of energy-efficient pumping solutions significantly reduce the electricity bill and carbon footprint of our customers. The range covered varies from pond pumps to drinking water and irrigation. By adding variable speed drives to these energy-efficient pumps, we can reduce power consumption by up to 50% in some applications. These low-energy pumps can run off alternative energy sources. The energy-efficiency speaks directly to a positive environmental impact.
4 The Blue Lagoon UV water treatment solution enables swimmers to swim in chlorine and salt free pools. Besides the health benefits for the people using the pool, there is a significant impact on the environment through reduced manufacturing of chemicals but more so the reduced discharge of chemicals into the environment. With Blue Lagoon Pool Water Treatment, it is safe to reuse the backwash water in the garden, thus saving water. The X-clear and VGE Pro UV systems also cater for the pond industry as well as drinking water, agricultural and commercial water users, again reducing the use and discharge of chemicals that pollute the environment.
If we look at what we do as a company to reduce our impact on the environment, our manufacturing facility in Vanrhynsdorp runs 99% off solar power. We also harvest rainwater for on-site use. We are practising what we preach.
What are some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by South Africans today?
I see water as our single biggest environmental problem. Given that two-thirds of Earth is covered by water, we will always have water. But will we always have drinkable water? I do not think so. Not if we continue to pollute our water courses at the rate we currently do. Not having electricity is inconvenient, but without water there is no life. Water is affected by natural changes in weather patterns, but the biggest risk is humankind who pollutes the water he needs to drink tomorrow. Unless we stop that cycle, we are in big trouble. Besides needing fresh water to drink, we also need it to grow food. Without clean water and clean air, we are doomed.
Our theme this year is Celebrating Environment Heroes. What do you believe could be the repercussions for millions of people in South Africa and the continent if we do not tackle problems exacerbated by climate change, encompassing issues like drought, floods, fires, extreme heat, biodiversity loss, and pollution of air and water?
The repercussions are simple. Starvation. Humans cannot survive without nature that feeds us, the air that we breathe and the water we drink. For our own survival we need to change our behaviour.