Water Research Commission to investigate tow-an-iceberg proposal

The Water Research Commission is to investigate the proposal to tow an iceberg to Cape Town to establish whether it is feasible as a new source of water.

The commission has asked the brains behind the project, salvage expert Nick Sloane, to set up a seminar where they can get a more detailed understanding of the project.

Sloane, speaking from the Philippines where he is involved in a salvage operation, told News24 the Water Research Commission wanted to set up a study to look into the iceberg 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. 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," Sloane said.

He added that the organisation would like the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to be at the seminar as well.

READ: Iceberg proposal to ease Cape Town's water woes gains traction

Dr Shafick Adams, executive manager of water resources at the Water Research Commission, said the organisation was investigating new water sources that were "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. We are obviously interested in it from a research point of view. Whether it will be feasible is another story."

Adams said with the reality of climate change and the increasing water demand, the Water Research Commission was looking at different "mixes" to supplement the country's water supply. This required thinking out of the box.

"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. 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," Adams said.

Sloane said the $130m (roughly R1.7bn) proposal to tow an iceberg to Cape Town to supplement the city's strained water supplies, is not off the table yet. Initially he had said he would need an answer from the authorities by June 30 as to whether they would buy the iceberg water, but he has now said that the deadline 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."

The City of Cape Town and the Department of Water and Sanitation have both said they would need a detailed costing proposal before they would say whether they would consider buying the iceberg water.

ALSO READ: Iceberg proposal as new water source for Cape Town

Sloane and his team are working on the costing.

Sloane said earlier the estimated cost of the iceberg water would be between R28 to R35 a kilolitre, or 2.8c to 3.5c a litre.

The City has said the cost of water from a temporary desalination plant is between R35 to R40 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," Sloane said.

There was still a lot of interest in the iceberg project from around the world.

"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."

He has also had a request from the Namibian government to do a presentation on the project.

Sloane, working with Norwegian glaciologist Olav Orheim and French engineer Georges Mougin, has proposed to capture an iceberg in the southern Ocean near Gough Island 2700km southwest of Cape Town and tow it back to be anchored 40km offshore of Lambert's Bay on the West Coast.

A saucer-shaped hollow would be excavated in the iceberg to collect the meltwater 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 to reservoirs near Melkbos, and then distributed from there.

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

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