Innovation: Soccer pitch that also harvests rainwater
An artificial soccer pitch that also harvests rainwater meets two needs for an impoverished North West community
A pilot project at a school in an informal settlement in North West promises relief from the region’s crippling drought by combining SA’s passion for soccer with the production of clean drinking water.
The idea arose during the 2010 soccer World Cup when a group of Dutch engineers, visiting SA to watch the tournament, were struck by the intensity of the soccer madness that gripped the nation. They came up with a potential solution to the lack of potable water in many poor rural communities.
SA is one of the world’s 30 driest countries, with an average rainfall of about 40% less than the global average.
With recent rain, the level of the Vaal Dam has risen to 63.4%, significantly up from 26% in November. But the after-effects of the 2014-2016 El Niño weather cycle — one of the three worst experienced since 1950 — continue to threaten food security in the region.
The Dutch visitors designed a system that could harvest, purify, store and dispense clean drinking water by using a non-water-reliant artificial-turf football pitch as its catchment area. In 2013, the design was given a 50% subsidy by the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs, and a consortium named GreenSource was put together to install 20 systems across SA. Those systems have the potential to provide potable water to 30,000 people within five years.
In 2015, GreenSource installed its pilot at Moedwil secondary school, next to a 100-household informal settlement 30km outside Rustenburg.
"Previously," says Moedwil maths teacher Michael Modisane, "about 12 pupils a month fell ill due to the polluted borehole water" that was the school’s only water source.
Hidden under the six-a-side soccer pitch is a 65m³ water catchment reservoir built out of interlocking hollow plastic crates. Water from the original borehole is piped into a purification plant which removes harmful bacteria but not vital minerals, then stored in the underground reservoir, which remains cool.
"What makes it attractive to investors," says GreenSource director Corné Theunissen, "is that it combines health, sports, and clean water as well as community development."
Five teachers, 10 pupils and five general assistants were trained and certified by the Saxion University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands in cleaning, maintaining and operating the system. Mapula Community Development educated the local community on the project and on the value of potable water.
Modisane says children from neighbouring farms are encouraged to bring empty bottles to school to fill up and take home.
"And people from the informal settlement in front of the school can come and collect water."
The second system is being installed at a community centre in Tshisahulu, a settlement of about 30,000 people outside Thohoyandou, Limpopo.
Tshisahulu-born businessman Vhonani Mufamadi of the social development Muvoni Technology Group and John Perlman of soccer development outfit Dreamfields were intrigued by the Moedwil pilot. They had already joined forces to establish two soccer pitches in the village, one a water-hungry conventional grass pitch.
"I went to see the one in the Moedwil area and it was interesting that we could get a soccer pitch for kids to play on and a water system and source for the village," says Mufamadi.
Each installation has its own applications, depending on the surrounding water needs: it could involve small-scale farming, or residential, or even commercial or light industrial uses.
The Tshisahulu project will eventually charge village residents a nominal fee to collect water, sufficient to maintain the system, Mufamadi says. GreenSource is now eyeing a site in Khayelitsha on the Cape Flats and, says Theunissen, intends commercialising itself once the first 20 subsidised systems are installed.