Water Use

   

Rainwater Harvesting for Local Communities in Ghana

Bongo River Trees Restoration Project (TREE AID-RPS)
February 2012 to February 2017

The problem:

As riverbanks in the Bongo District of Upper East Ghana have become eroded, there has been a reduction in the quality of land, the availability of water resources and a silting up of rivers. The environment is increasingly challenging for subsistence farmers because of the increased incidence of flooding, mostly in the rainy season, and the lengthening dry seasons with very occasional flash floods. This has further degraded the soil, and the loss of tree cover has made savanna forest resources scarcer. Rivers, vital to sustaining life in the area, have gradually become choked. The silt from eroded riverbanks is washing downstream into the main Vea Dam, which provides water for Bolgatanga, the regional capital of Upper East Ghana. This is drastically reducing the quality of the water across a wide area defined as part of the greater White Volta river system.

Our approach:

The Bongo River Trees Restoration Project, launched in January 2012, is working with 15 village communities in a 72km² project zone of Bongo District, currently home to 18,000 people. It will restore riparian tree cover along 30km of riverbank along the Agansy and the Nabakulga rivers to reduce flooding and reverse soil erosion. These trees will also improve water quality, land quality and biodiversity along the rivers, and provide income generation opportunities for local farmers. Riverbank restoration is done by creating ‘buffer zones’ on either side of the river, where land is carefully managed. These are divided into three distinct belts, with the area closest to the river becoming a protected site for enrichment planting. Beyond this is a belt to be used for controlled farming, assisted agroforestry and tree orchards. Further still will be an agricultural belt, where farmers will receive training and support in sustainable agricultural practices that conserve soil moisture and improve fertility. They will be supported to establish private woodlots and to produce fodder for their animals. Large-scale tree planting is only possible in this dry climate because of the weirs built through the project.

In 2013 and 2014, studies were carried out to identify optimal locations for the construction of weirs. In the spring and early summer of 2015, three weirs were constructed and by mid-March 2016 the fourth weirs was completed.

Project success has been dependent upon the participation, understanding and engagement of the communities and farmers involved, who are agreeing to give up scarce agricultural land at the edge of the riverbank. New income generation opportunities from nurseries, woodlots and tree products; training in improved agricultural and agroforestry techniques; and the future environmental and agricultural benefits that a restored river brings, have encouraged farmers to participate. The project will plant a total of 40,000 trees of 16 species. A further 45,000 shrubs will be planted in the buffer zone. A non-seeding vetiver grass species is also being propagated and planted out to anchor soil and prevent erosion in high risk areas.

This project is generously supported financially and technically by RPS, who, as well as funding TREE AID, are providing technical expertise to assist with erosion risk mapping, land surveying, dam engineering and biodiversity assessment.

See also: www.treeaid.org.uk

The construction process was challenging. In 40˚C heat hand-made bricks were dried in the sun. The dusty work of excavating the immense foundations for the three dams was partially begun using a mechanical digger but was substantially completed by hand using spades and shovels. Thousands of reinforcing steel rods were cut to size by hand using hacksaws. Metal bowls used to convey rocks and mixed concrete were carried back and forth balanced on their heads of countless volunteers, many of them women, and everyone worked from dawn till dusk to get the structures built before the destructive power of the rains could strike.

Despite the immense task, the three dams and associated erosion protection works were completed only just in time. The dams filled to overflowing virtually overnight when the rainy season finally broke. The La Niña weather system this year has resulted in unusually heavy rainfall in the region. Thousands of people were displaced from their homes in neighbouring Burkina Faso due to localised flooding. Yet the hand built dams downstream in Ghana held strong with only minimal damage to the aprons caused by the strong water flow. The dams have been gifted to the communities by RPS and their ongoing maintenance will pass to the local Water Resources Commission.

TREE AID’s Ghana Country Manager Andrew Dokurugu says: “The support from RPS is transformational for the landscape and the communities here. Everyone is so proud of all they have achieved, and seeing so much water held in the dams means these extremely poor families can feel more secure about the future for their children.” For local people in the Bongo region, the success of their hard work is life changing. Each dam is holding large quantities of water. The tree planting along the river banks can flourish. Crops are being irrigated and harvests look promising. The daily struggle with hunger and poverty is reduced, thanks to a more reliable source of water.

Support for the project is high, not least from the Chief of Bongo. He says: "When I was a teenager the rivers in this area were filled with water throughout the seasons. Many trees grew along the river’s edge. But the climate is changing so everything is different now. I knew the problems but I didn't know how to tackle them." Thanks to the collaboration between RPS, TREE AID and local communities the future is looking more resilient.

The RPS TREE AID project at Bongo is now approaching its final year. The funding and technical support entirely provided by RPS means the range of project activities are all set to succeed. Vetiver grass is also being raised in local nurseries and will be planted to secure the more vulnerable stretches of river banks. Trees with economic value, like teak, mahogany and tamarind, continued to be planted by villagers to further secure the soil and provide extra ways to earn income. And training in climate smart agriculture techniques will help villagers diversify and manage their crops to make best use of water and improve resilience to the impacts of climate change locally.

RPS Tackling Global Sustainable Development Head-On

The task for addressing global sustainable development is enormous, implying the need for a major international overhaul of:

Water management infrastructure

Waste water management infrastructure

Air quality management infrastructure

The legacy of widespread non-sustainable infrastructure must be tackled head-on with a set guidance and more sustainable processes, systems and technologies. As last year revealed the highest ever recorded increase in CO2 releases there is significant pressure to respond and to push new development projects beyond the limits of conventional technology to achieve a higher performance.

RPS Group’s Director of International Environmental Affairs, Dr. Ike van der Putte, is a founding-member of FIDIC’s Sustainable Development Committee, and former chair of its Environmental Committee as well as a former chair of the UN Environmental Program Sustainable Buildings and Construction Initiative (SBCI).

Some of Ike van der Putte’s (and RPS’) most notable successes in these fields have been projects leading the Environmental Management Plans for the City of Colombo in Sri Lanka and for the City of Santiago de Chile– the plans successfully addressed matters concerning effective sustainable water and wastewater management and air quality management respectively.

Ike presented on FIDIC’s Project Sustainability Management System setting out innovative ways to incorporate sustainable development principles into individual projects; and the Critical Importance of Sustainability in Developing Procurement Strategies – examining general trend in resource consumption and climate change and application of sustainable/green public procurement initiatives – illustrated with a case description of Green Public Procurement applied to wastewater infrastructure projects. The innovative thinking and approaches in PSM and sustainable procurement are also incorporated in the training courses for National Engineering Associations implemented by Ike van der Putte as an accredited FIDIC trainer in Jordan, Ireland and South-Korea with a new series of courses being started in China (2014-2015), and preparations being made for the African continent.

Monitoring Water Usage

RPS Group does not own all the buildings or control the provision of all the building services upon which our leased office spaces rely. This can make getting access to water consumption data for every single office quite difficult if not impossible to achieve in practice. For those offices where the information is available we monitor our water use. This has helped to lower office water consumption in a number of recorded instances.

As an example of the of progress made in such instances we enclose here an excerpt from the 2014 Divisional Management Report for RPS Group Ltd, our subsidiary in the Irish Republic. Annual water meter readings have been available at two of our five Irish offices since 2012.

WATER CONSUMPTION FIGURES

2012 - 2014 GALWAY & CORK OFFICES

Water consumption from 2011 to 2014 for the Cork and Galway offices is provided in the table below. A new meter was installed in Galway office in September 2012 as the meter was under-recording. There were 3 high bills between July 2012 and March 2013.

 
  2011 2012 2013 2014
Water Consumption (cubic metre) 806 1061 909 787
Staff Numbers 132 139 136 159
Water Consumption per person (cubic metre) 4.61 7.63 6.68 4.95
Percentage reduction/increase   40% -14% -35%

Leakage Management

RPS is the UK's leading water leakage detection, management and repair specialists with over 25 years experience and over 800 personnel in providing all water companies and authorities in the UK with leakage detection and management and mains rehabilitation consultancy services.

The RPS Leakage Management Consultancy team provides a range of specialist consultancy services to water company clients across the UK and Ireland. Services include regulatory advice, strategic consulting, operational planning and statistical data analysis focussed principally on supply-demand, leakage and environmental economics and asset investment. The team comprises a blend of water engineering skills with statistical analysis, economics, environmental management and software development.

The RPS Leakage Management Field team has knowledgeable, experienced and highly skilled technicians who are supported by the latest equipment. Our technicians are able to achieve the highest levels of productivity and accuracy.

RPS can undertake leakage detection works on a performance payment basis, simple day works or a hybrid of the two dependent on client requirements. Our leakage detection customers include United Utilities, Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, Southern Water, Thames Water, Yorkshire Water, Scottish Water, Northern Ireland Water, Dublin City Council and Wessex Water.