Residents of the drought-stricken Karoo town of Beaufort West will start using recycled sewage water when the town’s direct water reclamation plant starts operating next week.
The first plant of its type in South Africa, it has some local residents turning up their noses, but the plant became necessary to ease the plight of the town’s roughly 8 000 households hit by the water shortage.
Municipal officials say the demand for water has grown and the drought has been exacerbated by climate change.
The town’s main reservoir, the Gamka Dam, has dried up, forcing municipal officials to introduce a water management scheme.
The municipality was forced to cut supplies to households, while tankers supplied them with five litres of drinking water a day. Water tankers containing borehole water are available around the town for washing water.
A Stellenbosch-based company, Water & Wastewater Engineering, was commissioned to design, build and operate the plant to treat effluent from the town’s sewage treatment works.
Managing director Pierre Marais said water reclamation entailed taking treated effluent and purifying it to a drinkable standard.
The purified water will be pumped directly into the town’s reservoir.
“Drinking treated effluent water is nothing new. Our neighbouring country, Namibia, has been doing it for more than 40 years. Currently everyone is watching us to see how this project is going to work, but eventually this could become a reality for several other parts of the country.”
He said although several indirect water reclamation plants operated in South Africa, the plant in Beaufort West would be the first direct water reclamation plant which would produce treated effluent of a very high standard.
Indirect plants mix treated effluent with natural water and both are then treated in a conventional water treatment plant.
Referring to the direct plants, Marais said: “The treated water will be cleaner than rain water and people need not worry at all. We have very strict quality control systems in place.”
Testing had already begun and the plant would be fully operational within the next fortnight.
Beaufort West’s director of engineering services, Louw Smit, said the cost involved had already reached more than R42 million.
“The construction of the water reclamation plant alone was about R24m. Interim steps, including borehole development, have been estimated at R4.6m and short and medium steps for next year will run to about R14.65m,” said Smit.
“The long-term plan is mainly to develop good underground water sources in the area from as close as 3km up to 50km from town,” he said.
Smit said two water sources, one in the Nuweveld Mountains 15km north-west of the town and one south- east of the town would be the first ones to be targeted to supplement the long-term water supply of Beaufort West.
Smit said relief water was being supplied in 32 000 litre tankers to the water network at a remote reservoir and pump station.
“A total of about 3.3 million litres of tanker water have already been delivered to the reservoir. Visitors and companies have dropped off 435 000 litres of bottled water, of which 20 000 have already been distributed.”
He said a new aquifer had also been identified and the first borehole into it had been connected.
Smit said tourists who had been staying over in the town’s guest houses had put extra pressure on the already drained resources.
“This in itself put severe pressure on the water supply, but the economy in town needs the tourists and we accommodate them.”
Smit said the municipality had met Department of Water Affairs officials, geo-hydrologists and water engineers in December to plan a way forward in the short, medium and long term.
Truman Prince, the deputy mayor of Beaufort West, said although people were concerned about drinking treated sewage water, it was a system that had been implemented around the world.
“We have to accept this. The concept has been researched, checked and double-checked and it is safe for people. Residents have nothing to worry about.”
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