More investment is needed in advanced water treatment technologies to assure water security, say experts.
While electricity is a top of mind issue across South Africa at the moment, water and wastewater treatment are as critical as power – if not more so – and the country faces imminent crises in these areas. However, new approaches and advanced technologies could help turn the situation around.
This is according to water and wastewater treatment experts set to participate in the upcoming IFAT Africa environmental technology trade fair in Johannesburg. Marking South African Water Week and World Water day on 22 March, IFAT advisory board members note that water and wastewater infrastructure face significant challenges, which are worsened by load shedding.
World Water Day was held on 22 March this year with the theme ‘Leaving no one behind’, in line with the sustainable development goal of water for all by 2030. With billions of people worldwide still living without safe drinking water, World Water Day highlights the need to ensure that everyone has access to safe drinkable water and sanitation. South Africa marked the day as part of National Water Week from 18 to 24 March.
According to the South African Water and Sanitation Department, more than five million South Africans do not have access to reliable drinking water – a situation which stakeholders say could be exacerbated by the impact of load shedding on water treatment facilities.
They note that repeated and prolonged power outages have a major impact on water and wastewater systems, putting pressure on facilities already failing battling with ageing infrastructure, and a lack of funding and skills resources. Power outages impact reservoir pumps, resulting in water cuts along with power outages – particularly in urban areas with high demand. More worryingly, power outages also impact the bulk water and wastewater treatment facilities, they note.
Tumelo Gopane, Managing Director of East Rand Water Care Company (ERWAT), which provides bulk wastewater conveyance and treatment to thousands of industries across Ekurhuleni, says that bulk water treatment facilities in the major metros have no alternative to baseload power as supplied by Eskom.
“Smaller pump stations could potentially look to alternative power, but the major plants in urban areas cannot simply procure generators or implement solar generation – they have massive power requirements,” he says. Gopane says that while water quality processes and systems are of a high standard, distribution systems can fail during power outages, resulting in severe problems.
However, South Africa’s wastewater treatment is already extremely constrained from both a capacity and effluent quality point of view, therefore power outages and associated water cuts will worsen the challenges, posing health risks to communities.
Mr Gavin Bruggen, Managing Director of Wilo Pumps, says: "We believe that power load shedding and water load shedding go hand in hand. As an international company whose key focus is energy efficiency in the water and wastewater sector, we know how critical energy usage is on processing and water supply plants.
The process of supplying water is critical and forms part of basic human rights, and without a stable power supply, this becomes almost impossible. If the current load shedding schedule is increased this will have a drastic impact on the whole system. These systems aren’t designed for intermitted use and the impact of fluctuating power will have a drastic effect on the maintenance cost of these systems."
Wayne Taljaard, Managing Director of WEC Projects, which provides engineered solutions in the water and wastewater treatment industry, adds: “The crisis we face isn’t a result of load shedding alone. Load shedding is just another compounding factor on top of a range of issues, such as an apparent lack of will to address key problems, and no punitive measures for those who discharge effluent into rivers, for example.”
Henk Smit, founder of Vovani Products, which provides technologically advanced products for water treatment plants, says water security needs to be taken more seriously: “They say with power outages, you can always make a plan to generate light and charge devices, but you can’t simply improvise when there is no water. For water security, you have to have a long-term strategy and the right equipment in place.”
Overcoming South Africa’s wastewater crisis and looming water security issues demands a range of interventions, including new technologies and enhanced stakeholder collaboration, say the IFAT advisory board members.
Says Taljaard: “The necessary technologies, assets and even the funding are available, but we need to see a collective appetite to turn them into solutions. Assets aren’t being fully utilised, and there are plants running at a fraction of their capacity, by retrofitting existing plants with new technologies, we could make a great deal of progress.”
Smit echoes this sentiment, noting that newer, more effective technologies are driving down operating costs and treatment plant power consumption around the world.
“The country’s conventional treatment plants may be 30 or 40 years old, but far better technologies now exist to address new influences in water, reduce chlorination, take up less space and reduce odours,” says Smit. In the face of challenges such as Cape Town’s recent water crisis, a growing number of South African organisations, business campuses and even individuals are now harnessing these new technologies and moving to assure their water security by installing their own water treatment facilities on-site, he says.
Gopane believes that better collaboration could contribute to solutions for the sector. He says: “Lack of coordination is a key challenge. For example, the wastewater heads across the eight major metros do not have a formal collaboration forum. Imagine the progress we could make through coordinated planning and budgeting in a formal forum.”
ERWAT, Vovani Products and WEC Projects will be among over 100 solution providers participating in IFAT Africa, to showcase advanced new technologies and services to overcome South Africa’s water and wastewater challenges.
IFAT Africa is the leading environmental technology trade fair in sub-Saharan Africa focused on water, sewage, refuse and recycling. It will be co-located with food & drink technology (fdt) Africa and analytica Lab Africa, assembling a broad value chain to share knowledge and find solutions to water and environmental challenges.
Suzette Scheepers, CEO of trade fair organisers Messe Muenchen South Africa, says: “We believe that solutions to many of our current challenges lie in deploying new technologies that improve efficiencies, reduce wastage and use power more efficiently. IFAT Africa will bring together key international and local stakeholders to showcase innovative solutions and outline new approaches to overcoming South Africa’s water challenges.”