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Iceberg Proposal to ease Cape Town and the Agricultural Water Woes

30 July 2018
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Iceberg Proposal to ease Cape Town and the Agricultural Water Woes

Yes, Cape Town has received some rain, but other areas like the Eastern Cape have not. Areas from Hermanus to East London have not received much rain and the water shortages for the Eastern and Western Cape have only just begun, and experts report it will continue in future.

Authorities have said they will look at a proposal to tow an iceberg to Cape Town to bolster the city’s critically low water supplies – but first, they want to see a detailed plan of the cost of the iceberg water mining. The estimated US$130m iceberg project now has an investor.

What is the cost of iceberg water and can it bring agricultural relief?

South African marine salvage expert Nick Sloane, who is driving the project, said now that he had an investor, he would need a signed agreement by mid-2018 with the authorities agreeing to buy the iceberg water. This would "trigger" the investment and get the project underway. He would need to "capture" the iceberg in the southern ocean in December and tow it back to South Africa.

"The trouble is, no one wants to put their political career on the line by saying yes to an iceberg."

However, the authorities say they will look at the iceberg proposal – but only once Sloane has submitted a detailed costing proposal of what the final price of water from the iceberg would be. Sloane told News24 that the estimated cost of the iceberg water would be between R28 to R35 a kilolitre, or 2.8c to 3.5c a litre.

He said this was less than the cost of water from a short-term desalination project, which he said cost between R52 to R57 a kilolitre.

"If we can get an 80-million ton iceberg and can harvest 70% of it, then we will get 150 million litres a day for a full year," he said.

Last week, Sloane held a meeting of scientists, engineers, academics and some government officials to explain the proposal, with a follow-up meeting to be held.

Will the iceberg plan work?

"After our initial introduction, we asked people what chance they thought we had of success, and they said less than 1%.

"By the end of the presentation, they had changed to say between 70% or 90% chance of success. The more they heard, the more credibility they gave the proposal," Sloane said.

A significant reason for the change of view was that the Swiss company Water Vision had come on board as an investor – provided there was a buyer for the water. Water Vision says on its website that it believes drinking water would become the "core of the new economic realities in the next five to 10 years". The company’s vision was not only to make a profit out of a water shortage but to find solutions to help society "in an unprecedented way, using ultra-modern technologies and applications".

City of Cape Town’s take on the iceberg project

Asked to comment, Peter Flower, head of water and sanitation for the City of Cape Town, said while the City did not want to speculate on the issue, having an investor for the project was not the critical factor.

"One would need to look at various project components, such as the actual, final operating cost of the water. Also, matters of regional water supply should be advanced through the national Department of Water and Sanitation," Flower said.

Rashid Khan, head of the national Department of Water and Sanitation in the Western Cape, said the department would look at Sloane’s proposal, but only once Sloane had submitted a costing proposal to the City of Cape Town and the national department.

"We will consider all different ideas for water, but we need a full, detailed costing proposal first. Once we have that crunching of numbers, we will have no qualms about looking at it," Khan said.

Putting the whole process together to extract usable water

Sloane has formed the Southern Ice company for the project, with French engineer Georges Mougin and Norwegian glaciologist Dr Olav Orheim – who gave a presentation at the meeting that had "held them spellbound", Sloane said.

The team plans to capture an iceberg in the vicinity of Gough Island - about 2,700km south-west of Cape Town - and tow it to the South African coast where it would be anchored about 40km offshore of Lamberts Bay. A saucer-shaped hollow would be excavated in the iceberg to collect the melt-water that would be pumped onto tankers and discharged at a single buoy mooring offshore from Koeberg.

The water would then be pumped to shore via an undersea pipeline, warmed, stabilised and stored temporarily in a reservoir. It would be injected via a pipe to tanks in the vicinity of Melkbos, and then distributed from there.

Sloane said the investors had indicated their investment would cover the capture trip and the infrastructure needed to turn the iceberg into water and pumped into the system onshore.

Although it sounds farfetched, icebergs are a real and viable source of fresh, usable drinking and agricultural source of water. Let’s hope this project can make a marked difference to the water shortages we are experiencing which in turn will ease agricultural stress brought on by the dilemma.