SA needs to respect water

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Bloomberg

Solly Chokoe, an environmental officer, inspects purified water produced in the reverse osmosis plant at Anglo Americans Emalahleni mine water treatment plant near Witbank in Mpumalanga in this undated handout photo released to the media on April 30. Mines often treat wastewater to a certain standard yet until the Emalahleni water-reclamation plant, 120km east of Johannesburg, none was of drinking quality. Photo: Bloomberg

Johannesburg - It has been said that the next world war will be fought over water. South Africa can attest to that premonition having had to calm a number of protests since the acid mine drainage woes in Carolina, Mpumalanga, and with at least four lives lost in the recent water crisis in Brits.

Being a water scarce country, South Africa is vulnerable to water contamination and it should be maximising the use of its wastewater. Africa’s energy and water leaders joined forces to discuss challenges faced by these two sectors in the annual African Utility Week in Cape Town last week.

South Africa is facing a serious challenge of water losses. The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs and the Water Research Commission’s research published last year showed that from leaks alone, water losses in the country amount to approximately R7.2 billion a year.

But another challenge the country faces is that wastewater is not being recycled.

According to Steve Mitchell, the principal consultant at EON Consulting who presented the company’s wastewater risk abatement plans at African Utility Week, a common notion is that it is not possible to treat wastewater to the point where it can be reused.

“But the fact is we actually have to change that. We’ve got to start treating our resources with respect so that the economy won’t be destroyed by poor water quality,” he said on the sidelines of the conference.

Mitchell said recycling 50 percent of wastewater to the point of reusing it effectively, doubled a country or company’s water resources.

EON Consulting has developed a tool called a Wastewater Risk Abatement Plan (WWRAP). The tool is based on the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs’ Green Drop Certification, which is the wastewater services incentive-based regulation.

The regulation seeks to improve the level of wastewater management in South Africa.

The current Green Drop Assessments on the department’s website show that no province has a score of more than 90 percent when it comes to its water treatment plants.

The department’s 2012 assessment report, which analysed 821 municipal water treatment facilities around the country showed that only 40 plants or 4.9 percent were in an excellent condition to purify water. A major 56 percent of the treatment plants assessed were in a critical or very poor state.

Adri Venter, also a principal consultant at EON Consulting, said things could easily go wrong during wastewater treatment and the risk was elevated on poorly maintained and ageing plants.

So this tool, which has been rolled out to five municipalities, was designed to detect the critical areas that could contribute to things going wrong in a water treatment plant.

It was initially developed last year for the Randfontein Municipality, which had problems with its wastewater treatment systems. It covers all steps in the wastewater value chain, from production to discharge or reuse in a particular catchment. Unlike a report, it allows municipalities to see which are the high risk areas in their waterworks, what they need to fix or maintain on their water treatment plants and track their progress in getting the plants to optimal effectiveness.

The tool had been used by municipalities, but Mitchell said it could be used in mining, energy generation and other industries.

It can be tailored to purify water to different levels. South Africa has water quality standards for different purposes and different sectors of the economy. For instance, the standard of drinking water differs from that of water for agricultural use and so does the standard of environmental water from that of industrial processes in order to maintain biodiversity.

“When we look at ‘fit for use’ for wastewater (we have to consider) to what point are we treating it for the receiving environment,” Venter said.

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