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Wastewater should be recognized as a valuable resource, UN says on World Water Day

In a world where the demand for water continues to grow and the resource is finite, a new United Nations report argues that wastewater, discarded into the environment every day, once treated, can help meet the needs for freshwater as well as for raw materials for energy and agriculture.

Needless to mention, treating wastewater and removing pollutants can also remarkably reduce the impact on the environment as well as on health.

“Improved wastewater management is as much about reducing pollution at the source, as removing contaminants from wastewater flows, reusing reclaimed water and recovering useful by-products [as it is about increasing] social acceptance of the use of wastewater,” noted Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General in her foreword to the World Water Development Report 2017 – Wastewater: An untapped resource.

The report, launched today in Durban, South Africa, on the occasion of World Water Day, also highlights that improved management of wastewater is essential in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“It’s all about carefully managing and recycling the water that runs through our homes, factories, farms and cities,” said Guy Ryder, the Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Chair of UN-Water, urging for reducing and safely reusing more wastewater.

“Everyone can do their bit to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target to halve the proportion of untreated wastewater and increase safe water reuse by 2030.”

Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) has specific targets on halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally (target 6.3) as well as supporting countries in wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies (target 6.a).

Health and environmental dimension – particularly stark for low-income countries

The report also revealed that low-income countries are particularly impacted by the release of waste water into the environment without being either treated or collected, where, on average, only 8 per cent of domestic and industrial wastewater is treated, compared to 70 per cent in high-income countries.

As a result, in many regions of the world, water contaminated by bacteria, nitrates, phosphates and solvents is discharged into rivers and lakes ending up in the oceans, with negative consequences for the environment and public health.

For instance, in Latin America, Asia and Africa, pollution from pathogens from human and animal excreta affects almost one third of rivers, endangering the lives of millions of people.

Furthermore, growing awareness on the presence of hormones, antibiotics, steroids and endocrine disruptors in wastewater poses a new set of complexities as their impact on the environment and health have yet to be fully understood.

These set of challenges underscore the need for urgent action on collection, treatment and safe use of wastewater.

Wastewater as a source of raw materials

In addition to providing a safe alternative source for freshwater, wastewater is also a potential source of raw materials, noted the report.

Owing to developments in treatment techniques, certain nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrates, can now be recovered from sewage and sludge and turned into fertilizer. It is estimated that nearly 22 per cent of the global demand for phosphorus (a depleting mineral resource) can be met by treating human urine and excrement.

Use of treated wastewater has long been practised by astronauts, such as those on the International Space Station who have been reusing the same recycled water for over 16 years

Similarly, organic substances contained in wastewater can be used to produce biogas, which could power wastewater treatment facilities as well as contribute to energy needs of local communities.

In addition, use of treated wastewater is growing for agricultural irrigation. At least 50 countries around the globe are now using treated wastewater for this purpose, accounting for an estimated 10 per cent of all irrigated land.

Lastly, the report also mentioned that treated wastewater can augment drinking water supplies, although this is still a marginal practice. Cities such as Singapore, San Diego (United States), and Windhoek (Namibia) have been treating wastewater to supplement drinking water reserves.

A great example is use of treated wastewater, long practised by astronauts, such as those on the International Space Station who have been reusing the same recycled water for over 16 years.

Source: un

Bid to monitor sanitation service

A DRAFT policy which elevates sanitation as a priority and holds municipalities to account has received the backing of social justice groups.

The last time the policy on sanitation was reviewed was 10 years ago.

The Department of Water and Sanitation has drafted a new policy, and opened it for public comment until March14, with some of the focus areas being the right to access to basic sanitation services and prioritising hygiene and basic sanitation services to vulnerable people and unserviced households.

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Marie Brisley, the department’s water policy chief director said it will play a stronger role in ensuring municipalities budget properly and meet the standards in terms of wastewater works.

There has been no substantive policy regulating sanitation provision in South Africa, which has left implementation haphazard and without basic standards, Social Justice Coalition (SJC) spokesperson Axolile Notywala said on Tuesday.

Brisley admitted that sanitation provision had not received the necessary attention it required, and was usually the last thing municipalities budgeted for.

“That is why a lot of the wastewater treatment works are neglected and the water that goes back into the water resources does not meet the standards,” Brisley said.

At a public consultation in the city yesterday, SJC deputy general secretary Dustin Kramer said he liked aspects of the draft policy, and Ses’Khona People’s Rights Movement leader Loyiso Nkohla said the policy considered a wide range of issues.

Ses’Khona spearheaded a campaign for the installation of permanent toilets in informal settlements by dumping human faeces in public areas, notably the Cape Town International Airport.

“The government has done a wonderful job in covering issues on a wider spectrum. But they have neglected to include consultation from groups before drafting the policy,” Nkohla said.

In a statement, Notywala said: “Over several years, the SJC has led a campaign for clean and safe sanitation in informal settlements.

“Access to clean, safe and dignified sanitation facilities for all is one of the most basic rights. It is not a luxury. The continued violation of this right is one of apartheid’s greatest legacies and today’s most difficult challenges.

“We encourage communities and relevant stakeholders to make submissions and to ensure that the policy ultimately adopted is appropriate, and has the impact so urgently needed.”

Brisley said the country was expected to experience increased urbanisation, which will put strain on urban sanitation systems.

But at the same time, growing and changing settlements in rural areas are also putting pressure on small and limited sanitation systems.

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Notwane River wastewater: A mineral unexplored

Everyday millions of litres of wastewater flow past the villages of Oodi, Matebele, Mochudi and others along the Notwane River. The perennial current weaves its way past villages and cattle posts, over a distance of nearly 300 kilometres. 

Far away in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, Notwane empties into the Limpopo River near Thabazimbi.

Here it settles into Notwane Dam, an 18,800,000 cubic metres reservoir largely used by South Africans for irrigation purposes.

The perennial flow’s source can be traced back to the bathrooms and kitchens of both the Greater Gaborone and the city’s nearly 500,000 residents.

It would have emptied into the Gaborone Water Treatment Plant by way of sewers, or transported by effluence tankers to the Gaborone Sewage Farm or treatment plant.

After it is treated the water is released into lagoons or stabilisation ponds. Some of it flows into a wetland in the Gaborone Game Reserve and into the Notwane River.

It is an unceasing, gurgling flow of millions of cubic metres of a liquid that elsewhere on planet Earth is considered more precious than any mineral.

Yet, the value of this effluent water has been greatly ignored in Botswana. For instance, of the hundreds of farms along the Notwane River in the villages of Oodi, Matebele and Mochudi that Mmegi saw, less than 20 were putting the water to use.

Most are small gardens leased to Zimbabweans.  The immigrants, most of whom are poor and illegal, cannot afford to plant bigger pieces of land for fear they could be deported anytime, or because the people who lease the farms to them may come just as their crop matures and demand their farms back.

“It is a chance we have no choice but to take,” says Tidings Dumbo who has just over 3,000 rape plants.

He pumps water from the Notwane River and allows it to flow into trenches. “From here to the river it is less than 100 metres, so I just use a water pump to bring the water to the plants,” he says.

Many of the nearby one-hectare farms along the river are, however, bereft of activity.

“Some of the owners will neither lease nor cultivate the fields, and many of them have been sitting like this for many years.” Dumbo argues there is a scarcity of vegetables in Botswana which could be offset by adequate use of Notwane River waters. He currently has paprika, and green pepper, which he says sell well.

“Whoever wants to buy green pepper will want to buy paprika. You can’t go wrong with these,” he says.

His countryman Jonston Sibanda, who like Dumbo operates solo from a rented field says he is able to put bread on the table from his vegetable garden.

He also pumps water from the Notwane River and uses trenches.

About 400 metres from Sibanda’s farm sits a bigger farm with better infrastructure.

A half dozen men and women stop working as we disembark our vehicle.

One of them is the owner. He trudges towards us in his muddy gumboots and only when he is closer do we realise he is Asian, Chinese really.

“Englis ton’t know, speak berry litel,” he declares in a good mannered way after learning what our mission is, namely, to see how much residents make use of the Notwane River flow.

He introduces himself as Cheng and calls one of his workers, Thabo, to field questions on his behalf.

Altogether he has five hectares of farmland that sit less than a hundred metres from the river.

He plants various types of vegetables, including those that are in high demand among his native Chinese population. Using a combination of both sprinkler and trenching Chen remains one of the most prolific vegetable farmers in this area. An even better example of a determination to use Notwane River water is Saith Mustafa. The Bangladesh-born Mustafa has run his farm for 20 years. “I have been here for 20 years and plant all types of vegetables – from eggplant to pumpkins and all leafy vegetables such as cabbage, spinach and chomolia,” he says.

He employs over a dozen locals in his five hectare farm. Mustafa is appalled at the failure by Batswana to utilise the Notwane River water. “You could practically export vegetables to other countries. “Diamonds may lose value. The Chinese and Russians are already making artificial diamonds.

“The hope of this nation is in agriculture. That beef’s contribution to the GDP has declined, it is necessary to build other aspects of agriculture such as horticultural farming, both to feed the nation and diversify the economy,” he says.  He believes government should play a more proactive role in ensuring farms along such useful rivers as Notwane are put to good use.

“There is so much potential. Agriculture could be Botswana’s next diamond.”

Mustafa believes the country also has enough underground water to sustain irrigation. “Some parts of the country such as certain areas of Lobatse, all the way to the Mahalapye area have adequate underground water to build irrigation farming.

“Even the desert areas, which have far more underground water than the rest of the country can become thriving agricultural farms.” He gives the example of Israel, which he says utilises ‘every drop’ to turn their deserts into green pastures.

“It is possible,” he says. With regard to planting along the Notwane River, Mustafa says it comes with a lot of benefits. “You use very little or no fertiliser as the water is rich in those.” It appears however, that without government playing a more proactive role towards ensuring adequate use of the Notwane waters, the country’s food security shall remain questionable. If iclined though, government must first deal with the many challenges around usage of waste water.

Among the challenges noted by this publication are attitudes and perceptions about the use of effluent water.  It is a problem many nations that chose to make use of their treated waste water have had to grapple with.  However once the people have been disabused of those perceptions, and effectively assured that dangerous toxins and algae would have been removed during treatment of the water, many may start warming towards the idea of using it.

According to experts, Botswana could add up to 16 percent more water to the country’s available resources and demand, by adequately treating and availing wastewater such as that of the Notwane River. This present a wonderful hope for a country grappling with an acute shortage of water.

Source: Mmegi online


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No Easy Answers When Disposing of Oil and Gas Wastewater

We all want easy answers. And often times the harder the question, the easier we want the answer to be.

Increased natural gas use, for example, can help decrease U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as it has a lower carbon content compared to coal or oil. Natural gas also can help transition our energy mix to more renewable energy sources. This is because properly designed, gas-fired generation can respond quickly to pick up the slack if the wind suddenly dies or clouds unexpectedly roll in. But, these benefits mean nothing if the communities where gas is produced suffer air and water pollution, or if methane – a powerful global warming pollutant that is the primary ingredient in natural gas – is allowed to leak into the atmosphere unchecked.

We all should be worried about global warming and the role that sloppy oil and gas production and distribution practices contribute to the problem. But communities where oil and gas development is taking place are also worried about how oil and gas drilling is impacting their water supplies. This is a key issue and one aspect of the groundwater contamination concerns, rightfully gaining attention in these communities, is how and where toxic wastewater is disposed of that is produced along with oil and gas. But here, too, the answers don’t come easy.

The basic regulatory framework

More than 25 percent of the country’s approximately 700,000 injection wells handle produced water from oil and gas operations. The quantities are huge – at least 2 billion gallons per day. And this fluid is not harmless. Produced water from oil and gas operations is usually much saltier than sea water (it will kill plants and can ruin soil) and is often laced with heavy metals and radionuclides that are naturally present in the formation being drilled.  In addition, this produced water can contain hundreds of toxic chemicals – anti-freeze to name just one example.  The current standard practice for addressing this potential environmental hazard is through injection of the water into geologic formations suited to permanent disposal.

The 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act gave the EPA oversight of underground wells injected with chemical-laden fluids for disposal and other purposes. In most cases, EPA delegates the authority to state agencies, but in some states, such as Pennsylvania, EPA regulates the wells itself.

EPA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program generally has received high marks. In fact, many environmental advocates believe it is important to expand the program to include hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells, which was largely excluded from UIC regulation by the “Halliburton loophole” passed by Congress in 2005.

Challenges with existing methods

For all its high marks, the UIC program also has its problems. For starters, it is uncertain whether all states are following EPA’s definition of “Underground Source of Drinking Water”– the water that is supposed to be protected.

Leaks sometimes occur from storage tanks at UIC wells.

Other challenges include: inadequate investigations in some jurisdictions of the surrounding disposal area to make sure no unplugged wells or natural faults allow wastewater to migrate into water supplies; not always assuring that pressures during injection are held low enough to avoid breaks in caprock that protect aquifers;  failing to make sure that injection is always limited to permitted intervals;  and responding to the  increasing number of small and medium size earthquakes that are linked to injections.

Underfunding of regulatory programs compounds the problem, making it harder to provide the public with assurance that their water quality is protected from oil and gas development.

Wastewater Recycling: Buyer Beware

Recycling oil and gas wastewater for reuse in hydraulic fracturing operations is on the rise. The challenge, however, is that recycling requires storage and transport, and almost always requires some sort of treatment. How new residual waste streams are dealt with that carry far more toxic and concentrated substances than the water treated is a major environmental concern as companies jump on the recycling trend. Growing interest in the Appalachian Basin to treat oil and gas wastewater and discharge it into surface streams has heightened attention on these matters. Right now, these discharges are subject to EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), but as EPA recently noted in its Preliminary 2014 Effluent Guidelines Program Plan, “current regulations may not provide adequate controls for oil and gas extraction wastewaters.”

Recycling wastewater does reduce the need for freshwater and reduce the volumes that need to be disposed, but it can make disposal much more challenging – particularly when we don’t know enough about the treatment process and resulting waste products.

Diligent oversight needed

Permanent storage using underground injection wells remains by far the most common disposal method. At this point, it also appears to be the least risky, not to be confused with “unrisky”.

But there are things that can be done right now to help us begin to minimize these risks, such as updating requirements for the installation and maintenance of pits and tanks, assessing risks posed by new forms of transport and adopting appropriate risk controls, and doubling down on efforts to identify and remediate leaks and spills.

Bottom-line: none of this is simple. And questions about management of this produced water from drilling operations further demonstrates why we need to stay vigilant in better understanding the environmental impacts of oil and gas development. Having worked most of my career on these issues, it is clear to me that incremental but near-constant improvements are essential to minimize risks and protect communities.

Source: The Energy Collective