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Published on: 04/05/2011

The Drakenstein Local Municipality in Western Cape, South Africa, is using a new software system to get a better insight into assets management and the operation and maintenance status of six wastewater treatment plants serving 250,000 people.

Ceres waste water treatment plant one of the six plants where Drakenstein is using the Municipal Assistant system. Photo: IRC/Dick de Jong

The Municipal Assistant computer programme helps engineers and process controllers to generate reports for political bosses on the quality of effluents being discharged into rivers and helps the municipality to track the status of hardware – especially when it may need replacement or repair.

Mr. Ronald Brown, the Engineer of Waste Management in Drakenstein, said the software could be managed by process controllers with low levels of literacy while reports could be understood by politicians without technical knowledge. He predicted it would save the municipality millions in unplanned maintenance bills.

“We in South Africa have a problem with wastewater effluent polluting our rivers. So we need to have a management tool that will manage the quality of this and also our infrastructure.”

The Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) had identified the need to improve the management, operation and maintenance of assets, and to build the capacity of process controllers in Water Services Authorities (WSAs) as key steps in improving service delivery.

The software was developed in South Africa by WAM Technology and is being used in 38 municipalities where eWISA, the capacity building and knowledge sharing arm of WISA, has loaded data and photographs from the water and wastewater treatment works into the asset database. The software can be used for a wide range of purposes including reporting on:

  • Water quality, plant performance and efficiency
  • Asset management, including inventories, maintenance schedules, life span of equipment and replacement costs
  • Financial management
  • Resource monitoring, (rivers, streams and boreholes)
  • Water demand and sanitation assets
  • Assisting with maintenance, including logging calls and arranging call-outs

One of the key uses is in providing monthly reports to councils. “Whatever we put in, we can request a report from the system. The councillors are not highly technical staff, they are politicians and even they can interpret the report.”

From Stellenbosch to Drakenstein

Mr. Brown joined Drakenstein Municipality from Stellenbosch, which has been using the Municipal Assistant system since 2006, and it had earned them the prestigious Blue Drop certification awarded by the Department of Water Affairs to the top service delivery providers in South Africa. Mr Brown said: “We in Drakenstein were very interested in looking at the Stellenbosch experience and how the Municipal Assistant system strengthened their capacity at their water treatment plants operations.”

Ronald Brown, engineer of the Waste Management Department in Drakenstein Local Municipality

The Drakenstein municipality gave the go ahead in June 2010, investing 300,000 - 400,000 Rand (Euro 30,000 - 40,000) for the package. Software developers then helped Drakenstein to put information and photos about its six wastewater plants in the computer.

The municipality has also invested in staff training and was preparing to go live with reports from April 2011. Mr. Brown said that once all Process Controllers were trained on the system, they would add a complaints management module which would highlight any overdue action. Mr Brown said: “If it is not completed in a certain amount of time the system gives you a note to say it has not been dealt with. If a maintenance guy doesn’t act on a complaint in time, it goes to his boss, who can take action.”

Value for money?

Mr Brown expects the system to give good value for money. “With one touch of button I can do the budget, or my report to my superiors. It also gives us lifespan figures that we can use for forward planning, our operation and maintenance costing and our capital management expenditure needs. We can also keep track of the performance of our suppliers. It also provides us a Global Positioning System to track our water quality. For me it is a good management tool. It is a warning system that can help avoid millions of Rand spending for maintenance. In a year from now I can tell you more about the impact”.

Mr. Grobler system designer from WAM Technology, said that the national drive for municipalities in South Africa to qualify for the Blue and Green Drop certifications was a powerful incentive. “The political leaders of municipalities need a good operational system that can show good performance for their drinking water quality. They can get an almost photographic audit of what the municipality achieves and does not achieve.”

Costs involved

The standard package licensing fee is R 18,500 [Euro 1,850] with an annual renewal of R 9,250 [Euro 925] and an extra sum for training. By World Water Day in March 2011, WAM Technology had trained 100-120 people from 38 South African municipalities. The system is also being piloted in Malawi and Zimbabwe. Drakenstein is now considering using the Municipal Assistant for other services such as electricity, solid waste management and roads.

One word of warning, however, from Mr Brown. He points out that the system is only fully useful if everyone uses it every day, and “it is only as good as the user who can use it.”

See and listen to the interview with Ronald Brown from the Cape Town WaterCube, March 2011

For a fuller list of the Municipal Assistance components, see Components of the eWISA Municipal Assistant. or visit the Municipal Assistant web site

Dick de Jong, interviews in Cape Town and Witzenberg, March 2011

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