National water strategy: water reuse

Extract from the NWRS-2 by the Department of Water and Sanitation

The intent of the water reuse strategy is to encourage wise decisions relating to water reuse for all the different decision makers.

PROMOTING SOUND DECISION-MAKING

The implementation of water reuse can take place at different scales or levels: at a very local level involving a single facility such as a building or a factory, for a group or cluster of facilities, at a treatment facility level (for example, such as a municipal treatment works), or at a river system level (natural drainage areas/catchments). Decision-making will vary across these applications and could involve individual or groups of households or businesses, municipalities, and national government (including entities owned by government).

There are three important factors that can enable and support good decision making:

  • A sound and clear policy and legislative framework, that is, decision-makers and water users know what their rights and obligations are, and what they can and cannot do.
  • The benefits, risks, and costs are clearly understood, and prices and costs accurately reflect the relative benefits and costs between alternatives so that incentives are not distorted.
  • Decision-makers have access to relevant information and support to make informed decisions, with the necessary support and backup to implement water reuse projects. Each of these aspects are addressed in further detail below.

CREATING A CLEAR POLICY AND LEGISLATIVE ENVIRONMENT

Water reuse projects typically involve a range of activities that are subject to regulatory authorisation and control. These controls exist in a range of legislation that includes, but is not limited to the National Water Act, 1998 (Act 36 of 1998), the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, 2002 (Act 28 of 2002), the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act 107 of 1998), the National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 2008 (Act 59 of 2008), the Water Services Act, 1997 (Act 108 of 1997), the National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Act, 2008 (Act 24 of 2008), and municipal bylaws.

The fact that these controls exist in so many different Acts, and that regulatory approaches may differ between the Acts, makes it difficult to implement water reuse projects confidently, speedily, and cost-effectively. This makes water reuse projects less favourable compared to other alternatives, even where it is practical and cost-effective to reuse wastewater.

The Department of Water Affairs will address this issue by:

  • Developing clear and practical guidelines for typical water reuse projects on what regulatory approvals are needed, the status of reclaimed water in terms of right to use and how these can be obtained cost- and time effectively (see ‘guidelines’ below).
  • Working with other national departments to align legislation, reduce the regulatory burden wherever practical, and unblock regulatory obstacles to water reuse.
  • Act as the lead regulatory authority to assist in working with other Departments in getting approval for justifiable water reuse projects.
  • Working with municipalities to ensure that municipal by-laws support the appropriate reuse of water.
  • Ensuring the water quality standards implemented are appropriate in a context where water reuse is a strategic imperative (see ‘reviewing water quality standards’ below).
  • Use the water licensing process as a key tool to promote water use efficiency.
  • Implement the waste discharge charge system.
  • The Department will also review water related laws and regulations to assess the need for revision driven by water reuse. Legislation may then be revised to accommodate the need to facilitate, streamline, encourage, and control water reuse projects.

REVIEWING WATER QUALITY STANDARDS

Water quality standards for discharges into the water resource, and water quality standards and regulations for different types of water use (for example, minimum standards for potable water use, irrigation use for food and non-food crops) play a large role in influencing water reuse decisions. It is important that these standards are not so onerous that they make treatment for reuse prohibitively expensive and not so lax that they compromise public safety and the environment.


South Africa has the potential to be a leading innovator in water reuse technology, particularly in the area of the treatment of acid mine drainage.


This is a complex area of regulation and considerable attention has already been paid to this in South Africa.

The following standards exist:

  • South African Water Quality Guidelines for a number of different water user sectors (DWAF, 1996);
  • Drinking water quality standards (SANS 241, 2005, Edition 6); and
  • General and Special Standards pertaining to the discharge of treated wastewater to the water resource. These standards and guidelines were not specifically developed to address the issues associated with water reuse. Worldwide research into water reuse is producing new information, which needs to be considered in guiding and regulating water reuse projects. The Department will review and/or develop standards and guidelines for water reuse.

Water reuse projects may be implemented for a large spectrum of potential water users. The different categories/types of water reuse will require quantitative standards to define and manage the fitness for use.

The standards must be developed to address the following aspects:

  • Water quality variables of concern in a specific water reuse application;
  • Quantification of risk and acceptable risk levels; and
  • Monitoring requirements in terms of water quality variables, frequency, and location of sampling/analysis.

CLEAR INCENTIVES

Water reuse projects are much more likely to be implemented where it is more cost-effective compared to other water supply alternatives. Households and business have limited budgets and will generally choose the least-cost options to meet their water use needs.

Similarly, municipalities are resource constrained and typically opt for least-cost choices related to securing water supplies for their residents in order to limit water price and municipal rates increases. Sound water reuse outcomes will arise where the relative costs and benefits of alternatives are not distorted.

Where fresh water supplies are heavily subsidised, water users are much less likely to choose water reuse options, even if these options are cost-competitive with the cost of securing additional fresh water supplies. Conversely, subsidising the reuse of water is unlikely to lead to least-cost outcomes and the efficient allocation of resources.

The Department will take the importance of price signals and incentives in water reuse decisions into account when reviewing the raw water pricing strategy.

INFORMATION TO SUPPORT SOUND DECISION-MAKING AND IMPLEMENTATION

The Department recognises the important role that good information plays in supporting sound decisions. There are three aspects of information to consider:

  • Educating users with respect to the benefits and acceptance of water reuse;
  • Providing people who are considering water reuse with clear guidelines on how to implement water reuse projects; and
  • Sound methodology in the evaluation of options to balance water requirements and supply.

METHODOLOGIES FOR EVALUATING WATER RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT OPTIONS

Water resource reconciliation studies undertaken for specific catchments and water systems in South Africa routinely consider conventional water supply augmentation options alongside water reuse, desalination, and water conservation and demand management options.

The Department will continue to develop and refine the methodologies used to assess options to ensure that options are evaluated on a comparable basis and that the methodologies employed support sound decision-making.

GUIDELINES FOR IMPLEMENTING WATER REUSE PROJECTS

The Department will develop guidelines for the implementation of water reuse projects. These guidelines will support sound decision-making and implementation. The guidelines will address the management and control, project implementation, choice of technology, operations and maintenance, project financing, development and implementation of tariffs, and public and stakeholder education, engagement, and consultation. Separate guidelines will be developed for different types of water reuse projects.

TECHNOLOGY SELECTION

The selection and implementation of the appropriate treatment technology are key to the successful implementation of water reuse projects. It is strategically important to achieve this objective by:

  • Selecting capable agencies/organisations with knowledgeable and competent staff to implement and operate reuse projects;
  • Planning and executing the procurement of technology with the appropriate emphasis on functionality and proven performance;
  • Ensuring that local knowledge of and support for the technology are available; and
  • Providing technology guidance and training to reuse project implementing agencies/organisations.

PUBLIC EDUCATION AND AWARENESS

The concept and implementation of water reuse will require a focused and sustained public education programme to develop and entrench awareness of the different facets of water use and specifically water reuse. Multiple awareness creation and information campaigns related to a spectrum of water-related matters are launched by the Department, public institutions, and private companies each year. It is important to develop and incorporate communication material related to water reuse into these campaigns.

Public perceptions and opinions vary on the topic of water reuse, specifically as it relates to indirect or direct water reuse. A structured communication strategy must be developed and implemented based on:

  • An understanding of the diversity of perceptions and opinions;
  • Appropriate material to inform the public and stakeholders;
  • Active communication and debate on the topic; and
  • Targeted media coverage.

The overall objective of public awareness creation and information dissemination programmes is to enhance the understanding and promote informed decision-making related to water reuse. The current public perceptions and awareness of the poor operation, maintenance, and performance of municipal wastewater treatment plants pose a specific challenge. It will be difficult to gather support for municipal water reuse within the current situation. The national efforts to address the poor performance of municipal wastewater and effluent treatment plants may have to show results on a consistent basis, before placing municipal water reuse onto the national water agenda.

TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION AND DEVELOPMENT

A range of water reuse projects have been implemented in South Africa (see Appendix A of the NWRS-2 documentation available on the Department’s website).

South Africa has the potential to be a leading innovator in water reuse technology, particularly in the area of the treatment of acid mine drainage.

The Department will encourage the Water Research Commission (WRC) to make water reuse technology development a key focus area, and encourage the development of centres of excellence at selected universities.


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