Many of South Africa’s sewage treatment plants face significant challenges, including the lack of technical capacity and funding to maintain and operate ageing sewage treatment infrastructure, as well as the ability to expand sewage treatment capacity to meet the growing demand for water and sanitation services, says South African engineering consultancy SRK Consulting partner and principal consultant Dr Andrew Wood.
He tells Engineering News that delays in recognising the deteriorating state of many sewage treatment plants and associated reticulation systems has contributed to the deterioration of treatment performance and increased flow of sewage loads into river systems. Further, many municipalities have been unable to conduct quick, efficient and cost-effective upgrades to existing infrastructure, which has resulted in the sector’s current inability to meet growing demand for sewage treatment.
This is further exacerbated by the limited ability of water institutions, industry bodies and municipalities to promote the implementation of effective maintenance and upgrade programmes, further com-pounded by a lack of engineering expertise to maintain and operate wastewater treatment infrastructure and effectively implement plant upgrades.
Wood says Rand Water, the largest bulk water utility in Africa, has identified several risks in trying to meet future water demand, which is directly related to the challenges that local municipalities face in attempting to provide appropriate sewage treatment services.
In-house sector challenges that Rand Water has identified include failure of existing infrastructure; insufficient staff capacity, capability, attraction and retention; and insufficient integrated networks and systems, which are compounded by fraud and corruption. External challenges identified by Rand Water include delays in receiving external approval, climate change and the performance of contractors and manufacturers.
Wood highlights that, in 2013, the National Water Investment Framework & Strategy (NWIFS) identified that R668-billion was required over ten years – amounting to about R67-billion a year – to ensure sustainable management and avert a potential water crisis. However, financial arrangements at the time allowed for only R33-billion a year, leaving a finance gap of R34-billion a year.
“This was an alarming conclusion, but it was understandable, owing to institutional shortcomings in the sector, the significant water and sanitation backlogs, the declining condition of water and sewage infrastructure and underinvestment in operations and maintenance. “Subsequently, this resulted in poor functionality and pollution, among other risks,” he adds.
He points out that, while the NWIFS indicates that there is potentially sufficient funding for operational- and maintenance-associated costs at sewage treatment plants, additional funding will require equitable share subsidy and effective cost recovery, which remain significant challenges for water and sewage service providers.