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Published on: 08/04/2011

The urgent need for the improvement in the management, operation and maintenance of assets, and the building of capacity of Process Controllers in Water Services Authorities (WSAs) was identified by the Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) as a means of improving the quality of service delivery.

According to G E McConkey (2008) in a report Capacity building of process controllers at water services authorities in the Western Cape through the use of the Municipal Assistant the Western Cape Region of the Department of Water Affairs identified the Municipal Assistantas a tool that will help the WSAs to manage their water and wastewater assets in a more systematic way. It ensures that WSAs have enough information to enable them to prepare budgets effectively, and to take the correct decisions around operational and maintenance tasks. The improvement of the management of works results in better reliability and hence the quality of the drinking water from the Water Works and the discharges to the environment from the Wastewater Works. The system also supports the Departmental Blue Drop and Green Drop certification initiative.

The first installation of the Municipal Assistant system was done in 2005 in Mogale City Local Municipality in Gauteng. During 2008 the Municipal Assistant™ system was made available to the four WSAs within the Olifants/Doorn WMA. This was sponsored by the Integrated Water Resource Management Project sponsored by DANIDA. After it was seen that the use of this tool had the potential of improving the provision of water and sanitation services and in the improvement of the skills of the process controllers, the Western Cape Region of the DWA made funds available to roll out the eWISA Municipal Assistant™ to a further seven WSAs. The WSAs identified were Beaufort West, Laingsburg, Prince Albert, Kannaland, Theewaterskloof, Witzenberg and the Overberg Water Board.

See for the components of the Municipal Assistant system and the reports it can generate the article Components of the Municipal Assistant system.

Identifying and training champions

During the introductory stage of the project, preliminary discussions took place with each of the identified WSAs to introduce the eWISA Municipal Assistant™. At the seven Water Services Authorities, the Team insisted that each WSA identify one or two champions who would be trained to use the system. These champions were then trained to manage the system. The training that took place was a two day programme with intense interaction between the champions and the training team. In some cases the training was one-on-one to ensure that those with weaker computer skills were not compromised.

Collection of data

Secondly, the eWISA Team collected selected data from identified water and wastewater treatment works within the WSA, photographed each item and then loaded the Asset module of the Municipal Assistant system. This was done with the champions who were now in a position to help with the data collection. Analytical data was sourced from the WSAs as well as from DWA(F) and this was also loaded onto the system. Any operating manuals and other technical literature that was specific to the works were also uploaded so that it became instantly available to all the operational personnel.

Since these initial projects of implementation the Municipal Assistant system is more widely used as an operational, maintenance and manage tool in various municipalities across South Africa.

Use at Ceres Wastewater Treatment plant and Witzenberg Municipality

On a field trip to Ceres Wastewater Treatment plant and Witzenberg Municipality, one and a half our drive north east from Cape Town, I had the opportunity to get the full picture on the use of the MA tool, from the junior technical user perspective to the Municipal Manager perspective. Stephanie Farmer, Technical Officer at the Ceres Wastewater Treatmentplant uses the MA tool two or three times per month for uploading what maintenance was done on assets, the company that did it, costs and when it is needed next. “It is a very useful programme that keeps me up-to-date about the asset we have. It provides me with handy maintenance schedules as well”, she says.


Photo: IRC/Dick de Jong

She and her manager Nathan Jacobs were trained in 2009 for two days as master users of the system by Dana Grobler who is working with WAM Technology, the developer of the Municipal Assistant system. “We started from scratch”, Ms Farmer says.”We put in all the data we had in our municipality on our wastewater treatment. We had a lot of interaction and next day we did practical exercises to get used to the system”.

“Now we can manage every little thing ourselves. We can do cost analysis; check the quality of our suppliers. I can keep track of the whole process at the plant, including drinking water quality. The system gives me reminders when a part is nearing the end of its life span.” She is happy that every month she can generate with a push on a button quality reports for her manager, with nice graphics. She does not need to type out text and having to import tables and pictures. It also provides them with a historical overview stored in one place.

Ms Farmer is aware that the long-term value of the Municipal Assistant system depends on the drive in her municipality at all levels and their willingness to update the system regularly. Roseline Myburgh, her colleague Technical Officer from Theewaterskloof, who was visiting Witzenberg, is currently not working with the Municipal Assistant system.

Later in the day I talked briefly to the Municipal Manager of Witzenberg. He was satisfied with the monthly status reports he gets from the waste water treatment department through the Municipal Assistant. “It helped us to qualify for Blue Drop certifications from DWA in 2010 for two of our six wastewater plants. The other three facilities came very close to obtaining the prestigious acknowledgement as well”, he said.

Dick de Jong

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