Army Corps team takes on water security mission in Africa

By: Stephen Rochette

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Steve England and Jake Helminiak of the USACE Philadelphia District traveled to the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) to participate in workshops, field visits, and to share their expertise with government officials. During the visit, the group met with hydrologists and field technicians from the Department of Water Affairs. They visited multiple dams, gaging stations, and a local agricultural water impoundment. (Photo Credit: Michael Boyle)

PHILADELPHIA -- Two USACE hydraulic engineers traveled to Africa in mid-March to share their expertise on a variety of groundwater-related issues.

Steve England and Jake Helminiak of the USACE Philadelphia District traveled to the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) to participate in workshops, field visits, and to share their expertise with government officials.

The mission, requested by the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM), is designed to improve water security for the African nation. During drought conditions, the country has challenges in providing water to 100 percent of the population.

"Ultimately, they are trying to become proactive in how they manage water," said Helminiak. "I think the Eswatini officials appreciated working with people with similar areas of expertise. And from a personal standpoint, this was a great opportunity."

John Heaton, liaison to USAFRICOM for the USACE North Atlantic Division, participated in the visit and helped organize the mission. USACE plans to provide support in three phases. The first phase, completed in mid-March, involved meeting with officials, participating in site visits, collecting information, and identifying data gaps.

The second phase will involve building a conceptual model to document the country's 'water budget' and the third phase will entail developing numerical models that will be used to help decision-makers and inform an overall water security strategy.

"During the visit, we got a better understanding of their challenges and needs and developed a path forward," said England. "We plan to have periodic follow up discussions to identify key issues moving forward."

During the visit, the group met with hydrologists and field technicians from the Department of Water Affairs. They visited multiple dams, gaging stations, and a local agricultural water impoundment.

On a macro level, England and Helminiak are looking at how much water flows into the country through South African rivers; how much water flows out into Mozambique and South Africa; and are considering rainfall patterns and existing groundwater reserves.

As the mission moves forward, they will be working with their Eswatini counterparts to improve data collection, evaluate surface and groundwater resources, and work towards the development of a conceptual model of the Eswatini water resources. They will conduct training on various numerical models and make recommendations for a master planning strategy for sustainable water resource development.

England and Helminiak said the brief visit was interesting from a cultural standpoint. They flew to Johannesburg in South Africa and drove five hours to Eswatini. Helminiak said they saw densely populated urban environments as well as rural areas.

England has previously supported similar missions to share groundwater knowledge and expertise in Cambodia, Mongolia, Afghanistan and Vietnam.


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