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Applying natural solutions to urban problems

Applying natural solutions to urban problems

By Terraforce
Local company Actuality recently focused on the Langrug informal settlement to help deal with its wastewater, storm water and solid waste issues.

Actuality worked in partnership with BiomimicrySA and with the Western Cape Government to help facilitate the Berg River Improvement Plan (BRIP) and its focus on the Langrug informal settlement to deal with its water and solid waste issues due to a lack of infrastructure.

The informal settlement is 3km northwest of the centre of Franschhoek with a population of 4 000 inhabitants.

Terrafirma, Western Cape Terraforce approved contractor, was approached by Isidima Civils to install 1 000m2 of Terracrete hard lawn paver blocks. Terracrete blocks are permeable, interlocking, concrete pavers, that encourage water infiltration and prevent rain water runoff, mitigating large volumes of urban runoff that can cause serious erosion and siltation in surface water bodies. Permeable paved surfaces also help to control pollutants, as they capture heavy metals, preventing them from washing downstream and accumulating inadvertently in the environment.

The blocks cover a 4m to 5m wide road surface of about 110m and a smaller 2m to 2.5m wide pathway of 120m that run parallel to each other. They form part of a broader water management system that works using a series of greywater disposal points that are constructed and linked via underground pipes to miniature wetlands and tree gardens – hence the absence of open sewers. These specially designed wetlands start to purify the water as it moves down the slope from wetland to wetland and ultimately to the municipal sewer system.

The system is maintained by the community it serves and they also ensure that everyone follows the rules needed to keep the system functioning healthily and correctly.

Students are looking into feasibility of implementing this within the whole community and other settlements. Image: TerraforceLessons learned will determine the feasibility of implementing this within the whole community and possibly to other informal (and formal) settlements elsewhere. Image: TerraforceThe system is maintained by the community. Image: TerraforcePermeable paved surfaces also help to control pollutants. Image: Terraforce

Project rewards

And the difference this project is making to the community is already noticeable.

Says Siegfried Schäfer, journalist for the Franschoek Tattler, after visiting the site in in January last year, “Superficially blocks S and T of the settlement may look much the same as the other blocks. Looking a little deeper though, one soon discovers that something exciting is happening here and the differences suddenly become obvious. Plastic litter that seems to be everywhere in the settlement is absent here. So are the open streams of foul wastewater. The path between the shacks has a curb to give it a level surface and channel storm water to the nearest storm water drain.  Perhaps most strikingly the informal road is paved with open grass pavers and there are large indigenous trees every few metres along the road.”

Schäfer adds that the project includes monitoring and research by postgraduate students funded by the Department of Science and Technology and the Water Research Commission. “Every aspect is documented with the aim of learning as much as possible. Lessons learned will determine the feasibility of implementing this within the whole community and possibly to other informal (and formal) settlements elsewhere.

“Further phases will include solid waste collection points and encouraging entrepreneurship about waste recycling and upcycling. The use of ecomachines (biomimicry wastewater treatment systems) for treating storm water at source is the next focus area of the project, which is planned for construction on a section of land adjacent to the Groendal Secondary School soccer field.”

The team responsible for the project

Actuality

BiomimicrySA

Greenhouse Systems Development

Isidima Design & Development

Terrafirma

Maluti GSM

WaterLove Projects

CORC

John Todd Ecological Design

Freshwater Consulting Group

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