2030 WRG Partners with Government of Brazil to Lower Barriers to Industrial Reuse of Effluents

This blog was written by Stela Goldenstein

Brazil 2030 WRG recently established a working group in the metropolitan area of Campinas. The goal was to identify potential opportunities for investments in new industrial reuse units that treat sewage from cities in this region. So far, the Water Basin Agency and the Water Basin Committees of the Piracicaba, Jundiaí and Capivari rivers basins have developed the most successful institutional model for water management. They have brought water users and water managers together to regulate, plan, and invest in projects aimed at improving water quality and quantity in the region.

A conurbation of four metropolises, which are located in the state of São Paulo in southeast Brazil, houses a population of almost 34 million inhabitants. Together, these four metropolises generate a significant portion of the country’s GDP. Their vibrant economies are highly interconnected, and there is constant movement of people, information, and products across these four metropolises. These four metropolises are also tied to each other in another way; although they are situated in different watersheds, they share their water supply.

Keeping pace

The central metropolis is the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo. It has more than 21 million inhabitants and is installed at the headwaters of the River Tietê Basin. Despite the region’s immense water need, local water production is extremely low, and cannot meet the demands installed. Over the years, as the region expanded, more and more investments were poured into the region. To keep pace with the population growth and economic activities in the region, water was captured and transposed from nearby springs to the region.

As the regions—especially the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo—continue to grow, competition for water between their people and industries will only intensify. Climate change and poor water resources management further aggravate the situation. The resulting water stress is, arguably, the most serious systemic problem that the government and private sectors face in their planning processes.

Getting the water needed

Some will say that companies should be given priority because without water they need for their industrial productions, these companies will not be able to operate, and jobs will be lost. But technical and legal definitions define that public needs always deserve priority. The range of programs and investments needed to mitigate the conflict includes efforts to reduce the demands of water, as well as to adequate de offer, changing the standards for the supply and consumption of water.

Although industries need water for their production, they do not need high quality water that is safe enough for human consumption. Done right, final effluents from domestic sewage treatment plants operated by utility concessionaires should be of sufficient quality for industrial production. In other words, wastewater reuse by industries could play an important role in the effort to manage water scarcity in Brazil.

Sincere and open dialogue

The complexity and enormity of the task to manage water scarcity in Brazil call for an integrated and consistent set of actions and investments, including institutional framework adjustments, specific regulations, and innovative procedures to finance projects . For that to happen, there must be sincere and open dialogue between different spheres of government, between public and private institutions, and between utilities and municipalities, who are ultimately the grantors of water.

These stakeholders must discuss and come to an agreement on what they need to do to ensure sufficient reserves for potabilization. They also need to come an agreement about the scope and amount of investments needed to address the water needs of the population and the private sector in an equitable and sustainable manner.

Overcoming barriers

As mentioned earlier, reusing wastewater for industrial production holds great promise to address water scarcity in Brazil. Unfortunately, there are currently only isolated cases of wastewater reuse by industries in Brazil. Up to now, there are still many institutional barriers that stand in the way of increased wastewater reuse by industries. For this reason, Brazil 2030 WRG is working with the government and private sector to overcome these barriers.

In a similar fashion, the state government and industries of the regional also established a working group. They recently organized a technical seminar to initiate the consultation process for all stakeholders involved. Cities, their utilities, the State sanitation services, the region’s water-consuming industries, the state environmental agency, and the federal government all participated in the process. If this trend continues, industrial reuse of effluents from sewage treatment plants may soon become the norm.

This effort begun with a technical seminar to initiate the consultation process for all stakeholders involved. Today, cities, their utilities, the State sanitation services, the region’s water-consuming industries, the state environmental agency, and the federal government all participate in the process. If this trend continues, industrial reuse of effluents from sewage treatment plants may soon become official policy and an opportunity.

Photo credit: Goodfreephotos.com

Managing Bundelkhand’s Water Resources: A Lesson from History

The Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh lies between the Yamuna River and the northern part of the Vindhyan ranges. It is spread over an area of 29,000 square kilometers and is home to 7.8 million people. It receives water from perennial rivers including the Yamuna, Ken, Betwa, Sindh, and Pahuj rivers. Over 75 percent of the population depends on agriculture for their primary livelihood, with 96 percent of the income generated from agriculture and livestock collectively.

The region, which was once known as the pulse bowl of India, is now facing the fourth successive drought in the last five years. The negative effects of these droughts weigh heavily on the backs of people living in this marginalized and economically disadvantaged region. Although billions of dollars have been pumped into Bundelkhand over the last decade, the water situation there has shown little to no improvement. Indeed, the average annual rainfall in Bundelkhand has plummeted by 40 percent over the last thirteen years, with 60 percent decline in rainfall happening in the last five years alone. The resulting acute water shortage has triggered mass migration; without water, many families in this predominantly agricultural region can no longer grow enough crops to sustain their livelihoods.

The situation seems grim, but fortunately history have a few lessons to teach about water resources management in Bundelkhand. During the 10th-17th century, the Chandelas and Bundelas—the two major dynasties in Bundelkhand—took keen interest in conserving water as a means of supporting livelihood and developing the region.

Since the terrain in Bundelkhand is rocky, which prohibits percolation and natural groundwater recharge, the Chandelas and Bundelas built networks of reservoirs that enabled quick recharge of shallow aquifers and ensured minimal run-off of rainwater. This network of reservoirs helped increase groundwater levels in the surrounding region and made it possible to build wells that serviced the needs of people in the region. Unfortunately, over time, urbanization, growing settlement, and poor management destroyed many of these reservoirs. The remaining ones fell into disrepair and were rendered useless.

To help the region better manage its water resources—particularly in the Bundelkhand region—the Government of Uttar Pradesh approached 2030 WRG for help. Using an integrated and participatory approach, 2030 WRG facilitated a formal state-level multi-stakeholder partnership (MSP) to develop initiatives targeted at improving watersheds and reservoirs, increasing on-farm efficiency through improved agriculture and irrigation practices, and developing market linkages to increase agricultural production.

Recently, at the request of the state administration, 2030WRG commissioned a comprehensive mapping of water reservoirs in the Jhansi District of Bundelkhand. The study uncovered an encouraging fact—with proper restoration, the storage capacity of reservoirs in the region can be increased by five folds.

Based on the mapping analysis, 2030 WRG is now developing a project to integrate resources and initiatives from government, private sector, philanthropic foundations, and civil society. This project aims to rejuvenate water reservoirs in Bundelkhand, starting with the Jhansi District. The plan is to scale up this initiative to include all seven districts in Bundelkhand. When completed, these reservoirs would enable storage of surface water for dry seasons and recharge aquifers and nearby drinking water sources. With the support of it stakeholders, the MSP is now one step closer to addressing Bundelkhand’s water challenge.