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Press Release 
Dr Gerhard Backeberg 

SA’s practical achievement for irrigation water savings receives international recognition 

The Water Research Commission’s (WRC) investment in research and development toward increasing the efficiency of irrigation water use over the last 25 years is showing excellent results in South Africa’s major irrigation schemes.

Dr Nico Benadé, with funding mainly from the WRC, developed the Water Administration System (WAS), a computerised system which provides irrigation schemes with decision support for effective and efficient water management. Dr Benadé’s innovative research and development work was recognised for outstanding achievement with the WatSave Award for Innovative Water Management by the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID) in 2006.

The program assists water user associations to manage their water orders and releases as well as water accounts to clients for water supplied through rivers, canal networks and pipelines. Water orders are captured directly onto the computer by water control officers, and calculation errors are eliminated with water balances updated on a daily basis and volumes quantified on a weekly basis, instead of monthly as was the case in the past.   

The program allows efficiency reports to be generated automatically therefore the occurrence of water losses on canals due to human error is limited, with canal leakages and breakages easily monitored. The system also enables control officers to have more time for inspections, doing minor repairs and attending to clients.

The Vaalharts irrigation scheme, at over 29 000 ha, is the largest irrigation scheme in South Africa. The Vaalharts Water User Association (WUA) took over management of the scheme from the South African Government in 2003. Their implementation of the computerised Water Administration System (WAS) using digitised and electronically-imported flow data saved 17.5 million m3 of water in a single year, by decreasing water losses from 32% to 26.7%. As a result the South African National Committee on Irrigation and Drainage (SANCID) made a nomination and in October 2010 Mr Kobus Harbron, Chief Water Control Officer of the Vaalharts WUA received the ICID WatSave Innovative Water Management Award 2010 at Yogyakarta, Indonesia, for the initiative he took to implement WAS and the outstanding achievement of actual water savings.

Dr Gerhard Backeberg, Director for Water Utilisation in Agriculture at the WRC, says “It has been practically demonstrated that the river and canal conveyance system losses of between 30% and 40% can be halved to 15% and 20%. On irrigation schemes such as, for example, Orange–Riet in Free State Province and Loskop in Mpumalanga Province, this level of water saving has consistently been achieved over long periods up to 15 years.”  

According to Dr Backeberg the requirements for achieving these water savings are the installation of water measuring devices and training of water control officers. The WAS program is specifically designed to assist staff of Water User Associations (WUAs) or Irrigation Boards (IBs) who intend to improve the management of irrigation water by reducing losses in distribution networks..

Water managers of other WUAs or IBS interested in training to install and implement the WAS program should contact Dr Nico Benadé at 012 548 1005 or email nicob@mweb.co.za . The  Research Impact  Assessment of the Water Administration System  by David Winter of Frost and Sullivan International ( WRC  Report no  TT 447/09) is available at the WRC publications office e-mail orders@wrc.org.za .



Vaalharts  Irrigation  Scheme

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