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Water management should include better reuse and sludge beneficiation

South Africa’s master plan for water and sanitation says if a projected 17% water deficit by 2030 is to be overcome the country must deal better with the supply and demand side of water management.

Municipalities must waste less water, says the master plan, and develop alternative water resources through desalination, reuse and groundwater plans.

The Plan puts the responsibility for water management through alternative water projects squarely in the ambit of municipalities, where institutional capacity deficiencies are pronounced.

For Lelentle Motaung, interim executive manager: commercial business for the Erkhululeni Water Company (ERWAT), one of their biggest problems when trying to address water reuse is the absence of wastewater treatment facilities able to handle higher strength effluents. “This creates an impression that penalties will repair the damage caused on receiving water bodies by non-compliant effluent from industries,” Motaung told ESI Africa.

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She believes South Africa needs to focus on the ageing wastewater treatment infrastructure and rethink how funds acquired from the polluter-pays-principle should be channelled or ringfenced. Motaung worked with ERWAT’s previous managing director, Tumelo Gopane, on a water reuse tariff programme, which they both delve into during a water reuse session on Enlit Africa’s digital event between 26 and 28 October.

Water reuse is all good and well, but what about the sludge?

Rudi Botha, GreenCape senior water analyst, points out Africa’s surface and groundwater sources are becoming increasingly scarce in terms of quantity and quality for a broad range of reasons. While many solutions are being researched to address this, she says it is also important to acknowledge that each person has a role to play in protecting the continent’s water security by understanding the practices that contribute to contamination and wastage. “Being as water-efficient as possible is the new normal,” said Botha.

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Through her work with GreenCape she sees perspectives are shifting to incorporating sludge treatment as an integral part of overall sustainable wastewater management “because only focusing on effluent quality can lead to increased sludge treatment requirements, more waste and overall higher costs.

“This circular economy approach is helping to integrate solutions across sectors for optimising in energy, water, waste, environment and health protection and livelihood improvements,” said Botha.

Enlit Africa is the unifying brand for African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa.
Follow the latest conversation during the digital event from 26-28 October 2021.

Turning water management problems into solutions

Jo Burgess, head of the South Arica unit for Isle Utilities believes it is not science or technology holding Africa’s water sector back. “It’s the softer side of the water sector – proper planning, governance and financing. Thorough knowledge dissemination. Detailed, patient and appropriate communication. We know how to treat water and wastewater, that’s not the issue. We’re not so good at implementing our ideas.”

Still, she is optimistic that water management in Africa is not a lost cause.

“At Isle Utilities, we have seen an incredibly steep rise in the use of AI and digitalisation since March 2020. The first five months of the pandemic saw digital technology uptake and application leap forward by about the same amount as the five years from 2015 to 2019.

“This is a clear indication that we can lower the barriers to innovation if we want to – and we need to treat issues like climate change, drought and floods with the same urgency and importance,” said Burgess. ESI

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She, Botha, Motaung and Gopane are joined by Dhevan Govender, senior manager: business and commercial at eThekwini Municipality Water and Sanitation and Bobbi Harris, CEO of Smart Water, Smart City on a discussion into water reuse on Enlit Africa digital event on 28 October.

Book your front row seat to Waste not, want not: reuse, recycle and reclaim your water now to hear the panellists discuss potential solutions to Africa’s water security problems.

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a Content Specialist for ESI Africa.