National Water Week 2018: Industry’s role in implementing solutions to the water crisis with concurrent financial benefits

This year National Water Week runs from 17 – 24 March 2018, with 22 March recognised globally as World Water Day.  It provides the opportunity to reflect on the importance of water and identify potential solutions to the global water scarcity.  According to UNESCO, Industry accounts for 20% of the global water usage, predominantly through energy and manufacturing. 

South Africa is the 30th most water scarce country in the world with water supply deficits projected across most of its catchments .  This does not bode well for industries that rely heavily on municipal water for daily processes.  Although water reconciliation strategies have been identified by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), these will require significant investment and prioritisation to ensure effective implementation.

The total cost of water is projected to increase significantly above the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the foreseeable future.  With increasing water scarcity and the investment required to sustain future demand, the DWS has been forced to re-evaluate the true cost of water.  Their recently released water pricing strategy (open for comments) aims to ensure a more representative cost of water and an increased cost of discharging wastewater.  The discharge of wastewater presents both a significant cost and lost opportunity for many manufacturers.  Industries pay local municipalities for the supply of treated water as well as to discharge and treat their wastewater.  In many cases the combined cost of water (raw water and wastewater discharge) exceeds R35/m3 with some regions exceeding R50/m3. For large water users this cost and therefore the associated opportunity, can be significant.

As water costs continue to escalate and the additional costs of water infrastructure, as envisaged by the DWS Water Pricing Strategy, is passed on to the user, an alternative proposition for large water users becomes highly relevant.  Wastewater treatment and recovery offers such a solution.  With organic effluents, the additional opportunity associated with energy recovery adds value to the treatment proposition.

Water recovery can buffer the impact of water scarcity and rising costs by reducing the volume of water needed through municipal supply and reducing the volume of water discharged to the municipality for treatment.  The CAPEX required to implement a wastewater treatment and water recovery plant is now at a point at which it can often offset through savings associated with reduced municipal charges. Not only can these savings cover CAPEX but also effect ongoing operational savings, reducing operational costs associated with the associated savings whilst also effecting operational cost savings.   Furthermore, industries can gain the ability to buffer against municipal supply interruptions and therefore reduce the financial impact of operational shutdowns.

National Water Week presents the perfect opportunity for industry to be reminded of the vital role that they can play in South Africa’s efforts to find solutions for its water crisis.  A reduced requirement of municipal water due to the re-use of wastewater is one such solution, with an immense immediate and long-term financial benefit to industry itself.