Water flowing at a waste water treatment facility.

SWPN promotes public-private collaboration in wastewater treatment and reuse

The Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN) working group on Effluent and Waste Water Management (EWWM) has set its sights on improving municipal wastewater treatment and reuse in South Africa.

Municipal reuse is gaining increased attention from policy-makers and there are plans to increase its contribution to the country’s water supply mix. The draft National Water and Sanitation Master Plan shows that the ideal water supply mix would see a nearly 3% increase of reuse contribution to total water supply: from 1,319 million m3/a (about 9,5 % of total supply) in 2015 to 1,907 million m3/a (about 12% of a much-increased yield) in 2030.

The plan points to a huge scope for developing reuse in large towns and cities where suitable treatment technology is already employed; where there are adequate skills for operation of high tech equipment; and where city size makes reuse financially viable. This is especially relevant in coastal cities where wastewater is discharged to sea and “lost” from the system.

“Against the backdrop of decreasing freshwater availability and increasing water demands, municipal water reuse holds tremendous potential for alleviating some of the pressure on South Africa’s water resources” said Mr. Nandha Govender, Chairman of the Effluent and Waste Water Management working group.

The SWPN aims to catalyze public private collaboration for municipal wastewater treatment and reuse. The EWWM working group is considering the following options:

  1. Reconnaissance to identify municipalities where large water-using private sector actors can be off-takers for treated municipal wastewater thereby making projects for works upgrades or new builds financially viable. Opportunities that offer prospects for ancillary revenue streams or revenue enhancement through energy recovery and generation being the most attractive.
  2. Capacity building initiatives that would feature the use of private sector wastewater treatment plants for hands-on training opportunities targeting municipal officials.
  3. Support for the expansion of the financing market for wastewater treatment and reuse through market research and stakeholder engagement. This work has already started with preliminary results showing a funding gap of up to USD 970 million in the next three years.

From reconnaissance to construction

With these and other activities, a water resources development project pipeline funnel – from reconnaissance to construction – developed by the Department of Water Sanitation could be expanded and accelerated.  The current funnel shows that investigations of direct re-use opportunities are underway for a total capacity of about 280 million m3/a (just over 10% of the projected water gap of 2.7 billion m3/a by 2030). Of this total capacity, feasibility studies are underway for 125 m3/a.

Other reports have shown an even greater capacity at pre-feasibility and feasibility stage by municipalities and other institutions, underscoring the need for a renewed focus on the underexploited resource.

The EWWN seeks to address the issue of mining impacts on the water supply in South Africa. The focus of the working group is on coordinating private and public sector players to optimize the utilization of treated effluent and waste water. The working group recognizes the effect that mining activities have on the country’s water resources and quality and believes that mine water treatment can be expanded or improved to increase water security in South Africa.