Namibia: Desalination Solution in Time of Drought

HAD Areva not built the desalination plant six years ago, Areva Resources Namibia managing director Hilifa Mbako said he 'shudders' to think what would have happened in the current drought conditions overshadowing Namibia's water supply capacity.

"It would have been a catastrophe," he said at a media open day at the Erongo Desalination Plant north of Wlotzkasbaken yesterday.

The meeting was arranged to celebrate the desalination plant's sixth anniversary of 'no time lost due to injuries', while Areva's 2015 stakeholders' report was launched at the occasion.

The desalination plant, which is wholly-owned by Areva Resources Namibia and operated by Aveng Water Treatment Namibia, currently supplies NamWater with five million cubic metres of water a year. It has the short-term capacity of 20 million cubic metres, and can be increased over a medium to long-term capacity of up to 45 million cubic metres.

The Erongo region's water demands for the communities and the mines currently stand at about 12 million cubic metres of water a year.

According to Mbako, Areva is still waiting for government to come to the table with a counter-offer to the approximately N$3 billion offered by Areva for NamWater to take over the plant.

"Areva is here for the uranium. The desalination plant was created for a positive legacy, and understanding the prevailing water needs, such a plant is an asset to all sectors," he stated. "We are not here to make a quick buck out of water."

The Trekkopje Uranium Mine near Arandis remains in a care-and-maintenance mode as the global uranium market is still too weak to complement the mine's production capacity.

The Trekkopje mine may need about 10 million cubic metres of the desalinated water a year when it's in full capacity, but at the moment it benefits minimally because of the mine's status quo.

It is understood that water extraction restrictions from the region's main water resource, the Omdel aquifer, will tighten even further soon, straining water supply to the communities and mines.

The desalination plant is said to have relieved the burden of water supply in the region and has the ability to maintain a sustainable supply, for example during the period of November 2015 to February 2016, Areva provided subsidised water to the Swakopmund municipality when demand was too high during the holiday season.

"Namibia will soon have a hydrological drought, and many sectors will suffer," said Mbako.

Besides a pending deal for a takeover of the desalination plant by NamWater, he said Areva is ready to assist government in dealing with the threatening drought. "Desalination is the only sustainable solution, and it is expensive and may come with a price.

For this reason, a sustainable solution reached between government and Areva is important," said Aveng Water South Africa's general manager Suzie Nkambule.

To date, the Erongo Desalination Plant has produced over 15 million cubic metres of water. Unofficial suggestions were made that a pipeline be built from the plant, or from the Trekkopje mine, to the Swakoppoort Dam, where desalinated water could be pumped to.

This would help Windhoek with a fresh supply of drinkable ocean water that is of even a better quality than groundwater.

"When I talk of the quality, it is not a political statement.

It can be tested for proof," challenged plant manager Antony Kostopoulos.

Up to 75% of Swakopmund's drinkable tap water is desalinated water.

Source: The Namibian