As the Western Cape strains to conserve its rapidly dwindling water supplies, Spier Wine Farm’s 10-year water conservation initiative is achieving large-scale savings.
Setting out in 2007 to halve its municipal water consumption, the Stellenbosch farm and hospitality hub today recycles 100% of its wastewater through its own treatment plant. Spier has also installed 400 water-saving devices on showers, basins and toilets in its 153-room hotel, conference centre, restaurants and other public spaces. Spier monitors all its water consumption and measures water consumption per guest constantly looking at ways to improve efficiency and consumption. Water consumption per guest in the conference centre has been reduced by 55% and by 15% in the hotel.
“Water is an increasingly scarce resource,” says Spier sustainability director Heidi Newton-King. “We are working to contribute towards a water-secure future by minimising our consumption of water from external sources.”
The water-saving drive is part of a 10-year programme to reduce the amount of solid waste Spier sends to landfill, and conserve the natural resources on the 620-hectare property where farming of wine grapes, cattle, chicken and vegetables is based on regeneration of soil fertility. This is executed through high-density grazing, nutrient-rich organic composting, removal of alien vegetation and cultivation of water-efficient indigenous plants.
The Spier black and grey wastewater treatment plant, installed in 2007, has the capacity to process up to 1 million litres at any given time and produces 50 million litres of clean water annually, which is used for flushing in the washrooms and to irrigate gardens and lawns on the property.
“It would take a river 350 kilometers to purify what the wastewater treatment plant cleans in a day,” says Newton-King.
Spier also received the Getaway Award for Leadership in Water Conservation at the 2015 Nedbank Green Wine Awards in recognition of its advanced treatment of wastewater.
Spier believes the plant is a first of its kind in South Africa. “It combines environmentally-friendly cleansing and natural ‘healing’ techniques to bring life and energy back to the water,” explains Newton-King. After initial treatment through an activated-sludge process and in a bioreactor, the water passes through a reed bed into a ying-yang shaped pond where it is driven through a number of ‘flow forms’ before being transported to a nearby irrigation dam.
“It is believed that this process calms the water and helps it return to its more harmonious state,” says Newton-King. “Although there is no ‘traditional’ scientific validation in the use of flow forms as an effluent treatment methodology, the concept appealed to Spier from a philosophical point of view. Other ‘healing’ elements, such as a labyrinth, were introduced to add an aesthetic and calming influence.”
However, Spier’s commitment to water conservation goes well beyond the farm gate. Water scarcity and quality affects the entire Stellenbosch region, and it is only through working together with stakeholders including government, the community and other businesses that it achieves a meaningful positive impact.
“Working beyond our borders on these issues is critical,” says Newton-King. “It is through these working partnerships that we can collectively achieve more.”
This approach has resulted in Spier co-chairing the Stellenbosch River Collaborative which was launched in late 2013 to restore the health and water quality of rivers in the Eerste River Catchment which forms a vital lifeline for communities in the area.