School of Chemistry & Physics

Participants in the Umgeni Water Research Symposium

Second Umgeni Water Research Symposium Highlights Innovative Water Resources Research

UKZN’s Umgeni Water (UW) Chair of Water Resources Research and Innovation hosted its annual research symposium as a hybrid event, attracting more than 50 delegates from academia and industry.

The symposium, the second since Professor Jeff Smithers assumed the Chair in 2021, was designed around the wide range of diverse research themes within the Chair’s ambit, including flood studies and water supply, water reuse and sediment erosion, water and sludge treatment, and aquatic ecosystems.

Smithers welcomed participants, including the Chairperson of the Board of UW Ms Gabsie Mathenjwa and its acting CEO Dr Sipho Manana.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between UKZN and Umgeni Water was signed in July 2010 and renewed for a second decade in 2021. It aims to launch mutually beneficial projects in teaching, research, and technical services, and to continue to support an endowed research chair at UKZN.

UW funds the Chair, two postdoctoral research fellows, several postgraduate students, and research projects supervised by academics at UKZN and industry leaders at UW, while UKZN’s Research Office supports a complementary postdoctoral researcher. The research group promotes multi-disciplinary, collaborative, innovative research designed for the end-user or water resource manager.

A total of 16 presentations were made at the symposium by students and researchers in the Schools of Chemistry and Physics, Engineering, and Life Sciences. The research presented included work on flood estimation and risk assessment; optimisation of water distribution systems; biofilm control; flood damage assessment; new technologies for wastewater treatment; interventions to limit soil erosion; rural sanitation strategies; identification of pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs in wastewater treatment plants; removal of pharmaceutical compounds using activated carbon; the efficacy of fishway and in-stream barrier controls;  and the importance of river connectivity to sustain aquatic life.

Smithers, who is also the Director of the Centre of Water Resources Research at UKZN said the partnership between UW and UKZN is key for national capacity development, from undergraduate-level teaching to postgraduate supervision, and to support research on water resources and related fields. The Chair promotes closer collaboration between UW and UKZN and encourages research at UKZN to focus on issues relevant to UW’s research and development master plan.

The students who presented at the symposium are among the more than 40 postgraduate students supported by UW in 2021 and 2022. Bursaries administered through the Chair since 2021 have amounted to over R4 million, in addition to specific research contracts.

‘We deeply appreciate the funding and support that we have received from UW,’ said Smithers.

The symposium provided feedback on research progress to industry leaders at UW with the opportunity for discussion and promoted communication and collaboration between the two institutions.

‘We want to create awareness at UKZN of the research that has been funded by UW. We often tend to work in silos, and we want to try to break down those silos and expand multidisciplinary collaboration,’ said Smithers.

UW’s Mr Mcebo Mkhize said UW is a learning organisation whose long-term vision is to take up a global leadership position in the water sector. UW believes that investing in research, development and innovation is vital and is enhanced through a wide-ranging partnership with academia. Its priorities include human capital development for a strengthened knowledge economy, facilitation and promotion of cross-disciplinary research, international and local collaboration, translation of scholarly work into high-impact innovation for economic growth and sustainability, and applied research to support evidence-based policy development.

‘We are pleased to have UKZN as a key partner in driving some of our research efforts,’ said Mkhize.

Mathenjwa expressed the UW’s Board’s pleasure at the renewal of the Chair as it improves the entity’s relevance. She highlighted that the partnership is not only about UKZN and UW, but related to the people of KwaZulu-Natal and the province’s unique challenges. She added that the province aims to be exemplary in demonstrating how a water board and university can work together to enhance work in the water sector, province, and country.

‘This partnership is not only about water, but about innovation, research, and people – we are developing future leaders for the country,’ she said.

Mathenjwa said the second decade will be better than the first, with more research, innovation, technology, and skills development.

UW Manager of Research and Development Dr Wilson John said it was encouraging to witness the presenters’ enthusiasm, and how UW’s joint efforts and strategic plans with UKZN are proceeding. He congratulated the presenters for their excellent presentations and invaluable contributions to new knowledge. He commended Smithers for the highly focused, relevant research programme, credited senior researchers and supervisors for providing leadership and mentorship, and thanked the symposium organising committee.

Smithers said it was pleasing to see the research progress being made, and emphasised the need to ensure research has an impact on practice and operations. He thanked the student presenters, UW staff, and other participants for their engagement, as well as the organisers and UKZN’s audio-visual team.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod