Making it rain – A Middelburg based company has a solution for the drought-stricken Cape

Water Analytical Services have figured out a way to make it rain, and the Western Cape is very interested in what they have to say.

Owner of WAS, Franco van der Merwe, is a chemical engineer by profession. He matriculated at Hoërskool Middelburg in the 90’s. Mr Van der Merwe is no newbie when it comes to water issues and has been involved with the purification of polluted water for quite some time.

Also read: Water Wedenesday

It was the water restrictions in Middelburg a couple of years ago, when the dam level was at an all-time low of 23%, that Mr Van der Merwe started to think about alternative ways of ensuring a sufficient water supply.

“You cannot make water. Quite often there is a nice build-up of clouds, but it does not rain. So I thought what if you could make it rain?” he explained to during an interview. He did some research and came across a project in Dubai, where more rain, measuring 200 mm, was recorded by using a process called ‘cloud seeding’.

How cloud seeding works.


Cloud seeding stimulates clouds to condensate, more than weather conditions would allow them to. It involves a plane releasing chemicals over the clouds, such as dry ice or silver iodide, to stimulate precipitation, resulting in rain.

Mr Van der Merwe got in touch with the project leader in Dubai, who is a South African scientist. He found out that cloud seeding is not a new concept and a lot of research was done locally in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Worldwide, 56 countries have made use of the process to increase rainfall in 2016. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, cloud seeding was used to make sure it rains before and not on the night of the opening ceremony. It is also used around airports to suppress hail and fog.

Also read: For global water crisis, climate may be the last straw

WAS has presented a plan to the Western Cape Government. The plan involves making use of cloud seeding, during the rainy season, to increase rainfall in the catchment area by as much as 400 or 500 mm per year.

The attachments to the wing of the plane.

It is also a much cheaper and quicker solution than building desalination plants, which costs about R2 billion per plant and of which the Western Cape would need 12 to run 24 hours a day to meet water usage requirements.

Mr Van der Merwe says that global warming is one of the main factors responsible for the drought in the Western Cape. Weather fronts, which used to bring rain during the winter rainy season, come in much higher than usual because of a rise in temperature and blow over where they would usually rain.

Also read: Update: No water, no explanation from municipality

WAS has approached farmers in the Middelburg Dam catchment area to propose cloud seeding. If successful this will be done in conjunction with Platorand Lugbespuiting. An increase in rain will have an increase in crop yields and might even influence insurance costs in the long term, Mr Van der Merwe said.

When asked about the issue of interfering with nature, Mr Van der Merwe was not phased.

Global warming and pollution are man-made problems. We are simply correcting our own wrongs, commented Mr Van der Merwe.

Should the Western Cape accept their proposal, a team of carefully selected experts, including scientists from the United States, will be involved in the process.

“We are bringing in the A-Team,” Mr Van der Merwe joked.

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Jana Boshoff

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