A controversial proposal to tow an iceberg to Cape Town in an effort to help alleviate the strain on the city’s water resources will now be investigated by the Water Research Commission.
Just a few months ago, the idea may have seemed like science fiction, but the brainchild of South African marine salvage expert Nick Sloane, has gained enough traction to be taken seriously – and now even has a funder.
The Water Research Commission was established in terms of the Water Research Act (Act No 34 of 1971) after a period of severe water shortage, and generates new knowledge on water and promotes water research in South Africa.
It asked Sloane to set up a seminar where a more detailed understanding of the project would be established to see whether it would be a feasible water source.
Speaking to News24, Sloane said that the Commission wanted to set up a study to look into the proposal.
“They see huge potential in the project and are very intrigued by it. They approached us and invited us to join a small seminar to discuss the iceberg project,” he said. “Unfortunately, I could not make the date they wanted as I am out of the country, so we will have to postpone it, but we will set up something for later.”
He added that the Commission requested that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) be present during the seminar as well.
Executive Manager of Water Resources at the Water Research Commission, Dr Shafick Adams, said that they are interested in water sources that are not mainstream.
“We are still waiting for Nick’s reply as to when he can reschedule the meeting and then we will develop a programme. At this stage, we want to create dialogue with him about the iceberg proposal,” he said. “We are obviously interested in it from a research point of view. Whether it will be feasible is another story.”
Adams added that the Commission was looking into alternative water sources to supplement the country’s water supply.
“Climate change is not something in the future, we are already in it, so we have to look at our water resources in a broad sense,” Adams said. “So far, it has predominantly been about surface storage of rainwater in dams. We also have to look at a mix and see what makes sense in different situations. For instance, the iceberg project may make sense for Cape Town.”
Previously, the deadline for approval or rejection of the iceberg proposal was 30 June, but Sloane said that this could be extended to the end of August.
“”Even if the iceberg proposal is not going to happen for Cape Town now, because we are out of the immediate crisis with the dams filling up, it is something to consider for the future. The trend for sub-Saharan Africa is that it will get drier,” he said.
Sloane and his team are currently working on costing as both The City of Cape Town and the Department of Water sand Sanitation said that it would need a detailed costing proposal before they would consider purchasing iceberg water.
Sloane earlier estimated that iceberg water would cost between R28 and R35 a kilolitre, or 2.8c to 3.5c per litre.
“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.
The iceberg project has also garnered a fair amount of international attention, as its funders are Swiss.
“The Swiss funders are still on board. The UAE has said they are hoping Cape Town will do a trial run and if it works, they are interested in tackling it,” Sloane said.
He added that Namibian government would also like to see a presentation on the project.