Scielo RSS <![CDATA[Water SA]]> vol. 37 num. 4 lang. es <![CDATA[SciELO Logo]]> <![CDATA[<b>Thermal and chemical characteristics of hot water springs in the northern part of the Limpopo Province, South Africa</b>]]> In many countries thermal springs are utilised for a variety of purposes, such as the generation of power, direct space heating, industrial processes, aquaculture and many more. The optimal use of a thermal spring is largely dependent upon its physical and chemical characteristics. This article focuses on the thermal and chemical features of 8 thermal springs located in the northern part of the Limpopo Province, South Africa. Field data and water samples were collected from Evangelina, Tshipise, Sagole, Môreson, Siloam, Mphephu, Minwamadi and Die Eiland for analysis of physical and chemical parameters. The temperatures at source vary from 30ºC to 67.5ºC. The springs are associated with faults and impermeable dykes and are assumed to be of meteoric origin. The mineral composition of the thermal waters reflects the geological formations found at the depth of origin. None of the spring waters are fit for human consumption since they contain unacceptably high levels of bromide ions. Six springs do not conform to domestic water quality guidelines with respect to fluoride levels. Unacceptably high values of mercury were detected at Môreson and Die Eiland. Spring water at Evangelina is contaminated with selenium and arsenic. It is important to keep such limitations in mind when determining the ultimate use of the thermal springs. <![CDATA[<b>A forced-gradient tracer test on the Hansrivier Dyke</b>: <b>Beaufort West, South Africa</b>]]> A field-scale pumping test and uranin tracer test was carried out at Hansrivier Farm in Beaufort West to determine the hydraulic properties of the Hansrivier Dyke/Karoo sedimentary rock aquifer. Analysis of borehole images and pumping test results reveal that the fractured-rock aquifer is highly transmissive due to the influence of the Hansrivier Dyke; however its influence is concentrated on extremely limited conductive zones. Results of the tracer test show that chemical transport can take place via multiple flow paths with differing hydraulic properties, such as fracture aperture, connectivity and permeability. Furthermore, diffusion of a tracer into fractures and rock matrix has a universal retardatory travel time due to the various flow paths. In order to interpret the tracer test data, the Single Fissure Dispersion Model (SFDM) was used for inverse modelling of the breakthrough curves. The resulting effective diffusion coefficients are comparable with laboratory-derived values, and are therefore considered to be representative of the investigated part of the aquifer. <![CDATA[<b>The spatial and temporal characterisation of flooding within the floodplain wetland of the Nyl River, Limpopo Province, South Africa</b>]]> The inundated area of a wetland is characterised by annual and interannual variability. This paper presents remotely-sensed imagery in order to better understand the spatial and temporal patterns of flooding within the floodplain wetland of the Nyl River, Limpopo Province. A detailed understanding of the hydrological characteristics of these flood events is essential in order to develop sustainable ecological and hydrological management plans for the area. From the results, flooding is shown to occur in 2 distinct phases. The initial phase is characterised by water ponding on the floodplain. The later phase is characterised by the input of water from tributaries to the north (e.g. Andriesspruit and Tobiasspriut) and southwest (e.g. Klein Nyl and Groot Nyl). This distinction may relate to the increasingly widespread practice of agricultural irrigation within adjacent tributary catchments. The methodology described in this study could yield valuable results when applied to other wetland systems in southern Africa. <![CDATA[<b>Evaluation of critical storm duration rainfall estimates used in flood hydrology in South Africa</b>]]> Design rainfall comprises of a depth and duration associated with a given probability of exceedance or return period. The purpose of the study was to evaluate and compare the methods used in flood hydrology to estimate depth-duration-frequency (DDF) relationships of design rainfall in South Africa based on the critical storm duration or time of concentration (T C) of a catchment. The influence of the type of rainfall, areal and temporal distribution of rainfall were also investigated to establish if a relationship exists between the catchment area, T C and areal reduction factors (ARFs). The DDF relationships based on the least-square regression analyses of Log-Extreme Value Type 1 distributions, the modified Hershfield equation, the regionalised South African Weather Service (SAWS) n-day design rainfall data and the Regional Linear Moment Algorithm and Scale Invariance (RLMA&SI) approach were compared in 3 distinctive T C-ranges. The results showed that the RMLA&SI approach can be considered as the preferred DDF relationship in future design flood estimations. The results also showed that a direct relationship exists between the catchment area and T C, thus ARFs can be explicitly expressed in terms of only the catchment area. <![CDATA[<b>Total evaporation estimates from a Renosterveld and dryland wheat/fallow surface at the Voëlvlei Nature Reserve (South Africa)</b>]]> Accurate quantification of the water balance, in particular evapotranspiration, is fundamental in managing water resources, especially in semi-arid areas. The objective of this study was to compare evaporation from endemic vegetation - Renosterveld - and a dryland wheat/fallow cropping system. The study was carried out in the mid-reaches of the Berg River catchment (South Africa), characterised by dryland salinity. Measurements of total evaporation from these 2 land uses were carried out with large aperture scintillometers during window periods from 2005 to 2007. Total evaporation was measured to be higher in Renosterveld than in wheat during the rainy winter season. In the dry summer season, total evaporation from Renosterveld was limited by soil water supply, and vegetation was under water stress. Spatial variability of total evaporation from both wheat/fallow land and Renosterveld was estimated using the Surface Energy Balance Algorithm for Land (SEBAL) model for 3 climatically different years. The scintillometer measurements were used to determine basal crop coefficients for long-term (20 years) simulations with the HYDRUS-1D model to assess temporal variability in total evaporation. Long-term simulations indicated that well-established, deep-rooted Renosterveld uses 39% more water than the shallowrooted wheat/fallow system. A change in land use from Renosterveld to dryland annual crops could therefore affect the soil water balance, cause shallow saline groundwater tables and degradation of soil and water resources. <![CDATA[<b>A comparison of soil moisture relations between standing and clearfelled plots with burnt and unburnt harvest residue treatments of a clonal <i>eucalypt</i> plantation on the Zululand Coastal Plain, South Africa</b>]]> The effects of clearfelling and subsequent residue retention or burning on water and nutrient balances needs to be under stood and quantified on forest sites that are sensitive to loss, so that the long-term sustainable productivity of such sites can be maintained and promoted. An experimental site was established in a clonal eucalypt compartment on the Zululand Coastal Plain, to compare changes in water fluxes through the mature undisturbed eucalypt stand with those after felling and re-planting, under 2 conditions: burning, and retention of the harvesting residues. The study was located in an area of high rainfall and high stand productivity, with sandy soils and low soil carbon and nutrient status; chosen so that the effects of intensive demands on water and nutrient fluxes on a potentially sensitive site could be investigated. This paper presents only the hydrological component of the study. Data collection included weekly determination of rainfall, throughfall, stem flow and soil moisture fluxes from the surface to a depth of 1 m. Drainage rates through the profile were established using time domain reflectometry probes while water drainage volumes were assessed using shallow plate lysimeters. Despite slow growth in the unfelled crop during the monitoring period (attributed to a pest infestation), soil moisture depletion remained rapid and drainage below 1 m remained low. Soil moisture was recharged within a few months after clearfelling, but became rapidly depleted as the canopy of new crop developed and approached canopy closure. A decreased wetting-front veloc ity and a marginally higher field capacity were proposed as evidence of pore clogging that appeared to occur during the inter-rotation period. The soil profile under the unburnt residue maintained a marginally higher soil moisture status and lower drainage than the soil profile under the burnt residue. Although soil moisture and drainage in the burnt and unburnt residue treatments became similar to the unfelled crop from canopy closure onwards, rainfall additions to soil moisture were depleted faster under the new crop during the first few months after canopy closure. Small differences in soil moisture status between the burnt and unburnt residue treatments presented here may not be sufficient to influence residue manage ment decisions. The length of the inter-rotation period and practice of residue burning may, however, need consideration where soil carbon and nutrient loss or displacement may negatively affect the sustainability of the site. <![CDATA[<b>The effects of instream barriers on the distribution of migratory marine-spawned fishes in the lower reaches of the Sundays River, South Africa</b>]]> The distribution and abundance of migratory marine-spawned fish species was investigated in the lower reaches of the warm temperate Sundays River, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Fish were collected above and below manmade instream barriers using multi-meshed gill net fleets, 12 mm mesh fyke nets and 1 mm mesh fyke nets. Sampling was undertaken twice in the winter and twice in the summer of 2009. Of the 2 764 fish caught, marine-spawned species contributed 42.3%. Freshwater mullet Myxus capensis and Cape moony Monodactylus falciformis were the dominant marine-spawned species at most sites and were capable of surmounting almost all instream barriers. The longitudinal distribution of these species did, however, vary by size class, with the largest individuals being recorded the furthest upstream. The longfin eel Anguilla mossambica was the only species sampled above all instream barriers, including the 4 m high Cleveland Weir. The giant mottled eel Anguilla marmorata was found in low numbers at sites closer to the estuary headwaters. Other marine-spawned species, including Liza tricuspidens and Mugil cephalus (Mugilidae), Argyrosomus japonicus (Sciaenidae), Lithognathus lithognathus and Rhabdosargus holubi (Sparidae), were sampled in low numbers from the site directly below the first instream barrier only, suggesting that this first barrier restricted the access of these species to upstream environments. Freshwater non-native fishes contributed 41.7% to the total catch by numbers. The potential impact of the non-native species as predators and competitors on marine-spawned species in the study area is discussed. <![CDATA[<b>Micro-scale heterogeneity in water temperature</b>]]> Micro-scale heterogeneity in water temperature was examined in 6 upland sites in the Western Cape, South Africa. Hourly water temperature data converted to daily data showed that greatest differences were apparent in daily maximum temperatures between shallow- and deep-water biotopes during the warmest period of the year. Pool depth affected water temperature with deeper pools creating a more stable thermal environment. Groundwater-dependency affected water temperature differences with less groundwater-dependent rivers exhibiting greater differences in daily maximum temperatures. The importance of maintaining instream and riparian habitat, including pools, undercut banks, marginal vegetation, and an intact hyporheos, is discussed, giving examples of organisms utilising such habitats as thermal refugia. Considerations when choosing an appropriate model to simulate water temperatures, including groundwater-dependency, temporal and spatial scale, and study objectives, are discussed. <![CDATA[<b>Zooplankton biomass to chlorophyll ratios in relation to trophic status within and between ten South African reservoirs</b>: <b>Causal inferences, and implications for biomanipulation</b>]]> Rising eutrophication in South African reservoirs is of major concern, leading to the consideration of top-down biomanipu lation as a management option - reducing zooplankton-eating fish to sustain zooplankton grazing pressure and thus restrict autotrophic plankton that proliferate with nutrient increases. The biomass ratio of zooplankton to phytoplankton (ZB/PB) is used as an index of the likely value of biomanipulation to achieve this outcome, but values have not been explored for South African systems. Using chlorophyll (Chl) as a surrogate for PB, available ZB/Chl data are assembled for the first time for ten reservoirs of three types (minerally-turbid systems, oligo/mesotrophic clear water systems, and eutrophic/hypertrophic systems), and the results are discussed in relation to a generalised conceptual model proposed. With the exception of one minerally-turbid system, ZB/Chl values decline quasi-exponentially with rising chlorophyll within individual reservoirs. Conversely, between individual systems, median (or mean) values of ZB/Chl conversely increase rather than decline with rising trophic status - broadly contradicting observations reported elsewhere. Underlying causal reasons for the observed pattern and its implications for biomanipulation are considered. This assessment evaluates: the negative impacts of general declines in food quality that stem from rising eutrophication on zooplankton feeding ability and resulting seasonal changes in ZB and community structure; prospects of food sources other than living autochthonous autotrophs in sustaining ZB between systems; and inferences about fish predation pressure on zooplankton, derived from empirical data regarding the large body sizes of species and individuals of Daphnia that occur in the reservoirs. Observed increases in median ZB/Chl ratios with rising nutrient status are consistent with the inference that obligate visual zooplanktivorous fishes are scarce or absent, particularly in eutrophic reservoirs, suggesting that biomanipulative management is unlikely to assist in controlling the consequences of nutrient enrichment in local reservoirs. <![CDATA[<b>Solid phase extraction of </b><b>Beta(B)</b><b>-<i>N</i>-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) from South African water supplies</b>]]> Beta(B)-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) has been implicated in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/parkinsonism dementia complex (ALS/PDC) and is assumed to cause or contribute to this neurodegenerative disease after bioaccumulation and slow release of BMAA from a protein-associated form and conversion to the excitatory carbamate form. BMAA has been detected in varying quantities in freshwater cyanobacteria, causing some concern regarding the potential for direct dietary consumption of BMAA-containing water and subsequent intoxication. Considering the BMAA content reported in cyanobacteria and the concentrations cyanobacterial cells can reach in a bloom in freshwater impoundments, BMAA concentrations could potentially reach the mg·ℓ-1 range. BMAA has been shown to cause neuronal injury and even death at µM exposure ranges. Current analytical techniques are, however, insufficiently sensitive to detect the molecule at concentrations of less than 250 ng·ℓ-1 without prior concentration. Safe levels have yet to be determined for BMAA in potable water but these levels may be far below this analytical limit. It is therefore necessary to quantify potential exposure at these relatively low levels. A simple method is described here for high levels of BMAA recovery from a range of waters (78-103 ± 5%), as well as an amino acid matrix (57 ± 5%), saline solution (63 ± 5%), tap water (61 ± 5%) and a preliminary analysis of BMAA concentrations from bloom and non-bloom freshwater supply samples. No exogenous BMAA was detected in water supplies, despite high concentrations in the bloom material, suggesting that BMAA is not released or exported by the cyanobacteria or that rapid degradation, binding or uptake of BMAA occurs in these environments. This method is not suggested for marine samples as very low recovery percentages are seen in the presence of sodium. <![CDATA[<b>Selective removal of chromium (VI) from sulphates and other metal anions using an ion-imprinted polymer</b>]]> A linear copolymer was prepared from 4-vinylpyridine and styrene. An ion-imprinted polymer (IIP) specific for Cr (VI) adsorption was prepared by copolymerisation of the quaternised linear copolymer (quaternised with 1,4-chlorobutane), 2-vinylpyridine functional monomer and ethylene glycol dimethacrylate (EGDMA), as the cross-linking monomer, in the presence of 1,1'-azobis(cyclohexanecarbonitrile) as initiator. Ammonium dichromate and aqueous methanol were used as a template and porogenic solvent, respectively. Leaching of the chromate template from the polymer particles was achieved with successive stirring of the ion-imprinted polymer (IIP) particles in 4 M HNO3 solutions to obtain leached materials, which were then used for selective rebinding of Cr (VI) ions from aqueous solutions. Similarly, the non-imprinted polymer/ control polymer (NIP/CP) material was also prepared under exactly the same conditions as the IIP but without the chromate anion template. Various parameters, such as solution pH, initial concentration, aqueous phase volume, sorbent dosage, contact time and leaching solution volumes, were investigated. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, BET surface area and pore size analysis were used for the characterisation of IIP (both unleached and leached) and CP materials. Optimal parameters were as follows: solution pH, 3; contact time, 120 min; eluent, 20 mℓ of 0.1 M NaOH; and sorbent amount, 125 mg. Maximum retention capacity of IIP and CP was 37.58 and 25.44 mg·g-1, respectively. The extraction efficiencies of the IIP and CP were compared using a batch and SPE mode of extraction. In the absence of high concentrations of ions, especially sulphate ions, both CP and IIP demonstrated no differences in binding of Cr (VI), which was almost 100%. However, in the presence of high concentrations of sulphate ions, the selectivity on the CP completely collapsed. The study clearly demonstrates the suitably of the developed IIP for selective extraction of Cr (VI) in complex samples such as those from acid mine drainage. The selectivity was also compared by direct injection of the real-world sample, both spiked and non-spiked, into that obtained after IIP selective extraction. Despite the method's very low detection limits for direct injection (below 1 µg·ℓ-1), no Cr (VI) was obtained. However, after IIP selective extraction, spiked Cr (VI) was detected in the spiked sample. <![CDATA[<b>Incorporation of Ni(II)-dimethylglyoxime ion-imprinted polymer into electrospun polysulphone nanofibre for the determination of Ni(II) ions from aqueous samples</b>]]> Ni(II)-dimethylglyoxime ion-imprinted polymer (Ni(II)-DMG IIP) was encapsulated in polysulphone and electrospun into nanofibres with diameters ranging from 406 to 854 nm. The structures of the Ni(II)-DMG encapsulated-IIP nanofibre, non-imprinted encapsulated-polymer nanofibre and polysulphone nanofibre mats were observed by scanning electron microscopy and evaluated by infrared spectroscopy. Electrospinning increased the specific surface area of the Ni(II)-DMG encapsulated-IIP nanofibre mats, as was evidenced by the low masses of the Ni(II)-DMG encapsulated-IIP nanofibre mats used. The accuracy of the method was validated by analysing a custom solution of certified reference material (SEP-3); the concentration of Ni(II) obtained was close to the certified one. The limit of detection was found to be 4.0x10-4 µg·mℓ-1 while the limit of quantification was found to be 1.2x10-3 µg·mℓ-1. The recovery of Ni(II) achieved using the Ni(II)-DMG imprinted nanofibre mats in water samples was found to range from 83 to 89%, while that of non-imprinted nanofibre mats was found to range from 59 to 65%, and that of polysulphone from 55 to 62%. <![CDATA[<b>Degradation of chlorophenol mixtures in a fed-batch system by two soil bacteria</b>]]> This work was undertaken to investigate the effect of variations of the feed rate on a fed-batch set-up used to degrade xenobiotics. The mixture of substrates was composed of PCP, 2,4,6 TCP and 2,3,5,6 TeCP (pentachlorophenol, 2,4,6 trichlorophenol and 2,3,5,6 tetrachlorophenol respectively). Two acclimated bacteria isolated from soil were used: Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Achromobacter sp. nov. The different flow rates tested were: I: 0.5 m·ℓmin¹, II: 1.67 m·ℓmin¹ and III: 2.00 m·ℓmin-1. Our results show that during fed-batch operation the 2,4,6 TCP exhibits an earlier degradation than the other compounds, for all of the flow rates tested. This indicates that in this case the degradation of the most recalcitrant compounds (PCP and 2,3,5,6 TeCP) is benefited by the increase in biomass of bacteria, due to the metabolisation of a less recalcitrant compound (2,4,6 TCP). The defined parameter, specific degradation rate (SDR), was demonstrated to be very useful for comparing the degradation abilities at different flow rates of a fed-batch system. The degradation efficiencies were shown to be higher than 90% for all of the cases and to decrease as the feed rate increases. However, the SDR, a parameter that involves the rate of degradation and the biomass, increases as the flow rate increases. At a feed flow rate of 2 m·ℓmin-1 SDR reaches a maximum of 12.476 x 10-10 mgCP-h-1-CFU-1. Finally, among the feed flows tested, taking into account both the degradation efficiency and the SDR, 2 m·ℓmin-1 is the most convenient flow rate for chlorophenol degradation in fed-batch systems. An even higher degradation efficiency (97%) can be achieved by using the feed rate of 2 m·ℓmin-1 followed by an additional batch post-treatment of 2 h, with a SDR of 13.136 x 10-10 mg CP-h-1-CFU-1. <![CDATA[<b>A simplified method to calculate the percentage of fresh effluents (PFE) in non-steady state reactors</b>]]> Storage reservoirs are a key element in wastewater treatment trains for agricultural reuse; however, there is a need for further research on design criteria and operation rules for such reactors. The percentage of fresh effluents (PFE) is an important parameter for the design of perfectly-mixed reactors. PFE correlates better than mean residence time with the performance of the reactor. It allows for estimation of the removal of pollutants in non steady-state systems, such as seasonal wastewater storage reservoirs, and for forecasting the quality of the effluents released for irrigation. However, calculation of PFE is a difficult process requiring complex computer algorithms. A simplified analytical approach is developed to calculate the PFE for n days. The formulation is discussed, describing the relationships between the hydraulic variables, and then applied to a non-steady-state continuous-flow wastewater reservoir in Eastern Sicily (Italy). <![CDATA[<b>The case of cholera preparedness, response and prevention in the SADC region</b>: <b>a need for proactive and multi-level communication and co-ordination</b>]]> In this paper the authors seek to identify the most appropriate model for a regional co-ordination mechanism for cholera preparedness, response and prevention. The qualitative mixed-method data collection approach that was followed revealed the need for alternative solutions, including a socio-political understanding of cholera responses at different levels of scale and at different stages of an outbreak. Important areas that need to be understood include the multiplicity of actors and the complexity of their interaction, the importance of building local capacity, the need for varying responses at different levels of scale, the need for improved inter- and intra-country co-ordination and information exchange, the importance of cultural belief systems and the impact of the media on the response to cholera outbreaks. Ultimately, despite the proposed co-ordinating role that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) can play in a regional cholera response effort, the onus remains on states to build capacity at the local level and to capacitate local communities to drive response efforts semi-autonomously. <![CDATA[<b>Contested water rights in post-apartheid South Africa</b>: <b>the struggle for water at catchment level</b>]]> The National Water Act (1998) of South Africa provides strong tools to redress inequities inherited from the past. However, a decade after the introduction of the Act, access to water is still skewed along racial lines. This paper analyses the various ways in which the Water Act is contested, based on empirical data detailing the interactions between smallholder farmers and commercial farmers in a case-study catchment in KwaZulu-Natal Province. The paper argues that the legacy of the apartheid era still dominates the current political and economical reality and shows how the redistribution of water resources is contested by the elite. The paper identifies several issues that prevent the smallholder farmers from claiming their rights, including the institutional arrangements in former homelands, the 'community approach' of Government and NGOs, the disconnect between land and water reform processes, and historically-entrenched forms of behaviour of the various actors. The paper concludes that the difficulties encountered in the water reform process are illustrative for what is happening in the society at large and raises the question as to what price is being paid to maintain the current status quo in the division of wealth? <![CDATA[<b>Water operator partnerships as a model to achieve the Millenium Development Goals for water supply? Lessons from four cities in Mozambique</b>]]> In the void left by the declining popularity of public-private partnerships, the concept of 'water operator partnerships' (WOPs) has increasingly been promoted as an alternative for improving water services provision in developing countries. This paper assesses the potential of such partnerships as a 'model' for contributing to the MDGs, by focusing on 4 water utilities in Mozambique. Although, the study found these partnerships to be successful, it is more sceptical about the potential for this type of water operator partnership to significantly contribute towards achieving the MDGs. The main reason for this is that the replicability of the partnership-model studied in Mozambique was found to be quite limited. The case presented in this article highlights 3 main lessons for water operator partnerships in the water services sector. First, the availability of investment funds is a crucial component of a partnership. Without access to such funds the impact of such a partnership is likely to be limited. Secondly, the level of commitment to the partnership needs to be high if it is to be successful. This commitment is likely to take shape in the form of both financial commitment as well as commitment of time and effort of the organisations involved. Thirdly, even if the partnership is a success, the question of how sustainable the achieved performance gains are remains a point of concern. All in all, although we acknowledge the success achieved by the studied partnership, the findings have made us hesitant about the potential for replicating this 'model' at a large scale. <![CDATA[<b>Investigating water meter performance in developing countries</b>: <b>a case study of Kampala, Uganda</b>]]> High levels of water losses in distribution systems are the main challenge that water utilities in developing countries currently face. The water meter is an essential tool for both the utility and the customers to measure and monitor consumption. When metering is inefficient and coupled with low tariffs, the financial sustainability of utilities is at stake. Apparent water losses caused by metering inefficiencies can be reduced by assessing meters' performance and identifying the main causes of inefficiency. This paper examines the performance of 3 meter models, on the basis of failure records for a developing world water utility in Kampala city, Uganda. The influence of sub-metering on meter accuracy is also examined. The results indicate a high meter failure rate (6.6%/year) in Kampala. Over 75% of failures were observed in the volumetric (oscillating-piston) meter types with the main cause of meter failure being particulates in water. The study also indicates an average reduction in revenue water registration of 18% due to sub-metering. The reduction was not because of water use efficiency but due to the combined effect of the metering errors of the sub-meters. This clearly implies that when properties are sub-metered, customers should be charged proportionately based on master meter readings, for accurate water accountability. The findings of this study will be useful for both utility managers and meter manufacturers who work in the water industry, especially in developing countries, to make appropriate metering and sub-metering decisions. <![CDATA[<b>Analysis of experimental data sets for local scour depth around bridge abutments using artificial neural networks</b>]]> The perfor mance of soft computing techniques to analyse and interpret the experimental data of local scour depth around bridge abutment, measured at different laboratory conditions and environment, is presented. The scour around bridge piers and abutments is, in the majority of cases, the main reason for bridge failures. Therefore, many experimental and theoretical studies have been conducted on this topic. This study sought to answer the following questions: Firstly, can data collected by different researchers at different times be combined in one data set? Secondly, can we determine any unquantified effects such as data differences, laboratory conditions and measurement devices? Artificial neural networks (ANN) are used and a basic ANN model is selected to observe the application problems, in order to avoid any misleading conclusion arising due to the model parameters selected and the compilation of different subsets of experimental data into one set. At the first stage, seven experimental data sets are compiled to address the first question and an ANN model is used to discovery any existing discrepancies between available data groups. The importance of selected model parameters for the model's performance was demonstrated by increasing the number of parameters. Then, each data subset was inspected to expose the importance of the homogeneity of data groups in order to obtain a best-fit ANN model. Finally, a sensitivity analysis was carried out to obtain the dominant parameters of the problem. It was concluded that the use of 'soft' computational techniques such as ANN can be beneficial, provided the user is aware of the heterogeneity of the data set and the physical context of the subject or problem being addressed. However, as with other data analysis techniques, elaborate inspection of data and results is required.