Growing populations, urbanization, environmental awareness with resultant regulations and water scarcity have resulted in a search for alternative water sources. Municipal wastewater reclamation and reuse is a necessity in these conditions because it is a water source that is available throughout the year. It can reduce the demand for source water and could be treated at lower costs to the required water quality requirements of the intended use. South Africa especially the Gauteng Province is subjected to the above mentioned stressors but lacks a holistic approach to wastewater reclamation and reuse as a practical and viable solution. Furthermore, the lack of characterization parameters as well as advanced wastewater treatment methods and the viability assessments of the municipal wastewater generated in the South Gauteng catchment, has led to loss of potential water resource in the province. Therefore the current research was initiated as a baseline study to investigate the feasibility of municipal wastewater reclamation and reuse in the South Gauteng catchment. The specific objectives were to 1) assess the worldwide practices of wastewater reuse, 2) apply influent and effluent data analysis and make recommendations on the type of reuse application available for the Southern Gauteng municipal wastewater treatment effluent and to 3) assess the viability of tertiary treatment technologies as best fit options available for different reuse options required for the study area.
To achieve the above mentioned objectives a literature review was undertaken to assess worldwide water reuse practices and how they can be used in the study area to utilize the generated wastewater effluent. Influent and effluent data of four wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in the Sedibeng district municipality (SDM), three in the Emfuleni local municipality and one in the Midvaal local municipality, was used to assess the viability of water reuse. Available worldwide aggregate, nutrient, ionic and microbiological water reuse standards and criteria for potable, agricultural and industrial use were used to characterize the Sedibeng WWTPs for water reclamation.
Wastewater reclamation and reuse is broadly defined as collecting treated or untreated wastewater and using it for a purpose different from what it was used for previously. Recycling, on the other hand, is using water, for the same purpose repeatedly (DWA, 2013a). Water reuse is practiced in countries such as the Western United States, Australia, Singapore, Namibia, Mediterranean countries and Japan for potable use, irrigation and industrial purposes. South Africa, having laid the foundation of wastewater reuse in Namibia, currently practices direct potable reuse (DPR) in the Beaufort West municipality as well as internal water recycling in the power, steel, petrochemical, paper and pulp industry. Water reuse standards and criteria are set based on regional differences of water availability, public health protection, monitoring feasibility, industry types and the reuse purpose. Risk assessment that includes among others a multi-barrier approach, water quality criteria objectives and acceptance determines treatment technology selection. Tertiary treatment technology such as ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation processes especially UV/H2O2 are used in water reclamation plants after preliminary treatment of secondary effluent.
The four SDM WWTPs effluent, which was over 220 ML/d, the results show, mostly use activated sludge process and have water quality determinants complying with the design criteria for advanced treatment in water reuse. This effluent meets the Namibian Goreangab and Beaufort West Water Reclamation Plant (WRP) multi-barrier influent design criteria for DPR in most aggregate, nutrient and ionic parameters except microbiological parameters. Parameters such as chemical oxygen demand (COD), dissolved solids and ammonia and alkalinity were non-compliant for which this could signify incomplete activated sludge process. This shows the importance of secondary treatment as one of the barriers in the multi barrier approach. Even though membrane treatment of this effluent to improve these parameters and microbiological quality is possible effective secondary treatment as one of the barriers is important to prevent downstream membrane fouling. Depending on this water quality the water will be suitable for indirect potable reuse (IPR) with blending, industrial cooling, heat exchange and dust suppression as recommended uses. Municipal effluent, which could reduce potable water demand, is currently not used in the study area’s power generation and steel making industries Eskom’s Lethabo power station and ArcelorMittal respectively. This is even though, advanced water treatment processes such as reverse osmosis, exist for both organization’s internal wastewater recycling. The reclaimed municipal effluent can be introduced to moderate water quality processes such as cooling systems, heat removal, waste handling and washing in both industries in the study area.
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) with water intensive user industries incorporating municipal secondary effluent in current and future infrastructure plans to find viable solutions as part of their water use licensing conditions. These PPPs would include the national Department Water and Sanitation (DWS), Sedibeng district municipality, Eskom, ArcelorMittal and Rand Water the bulk water utility in the study area. An in depth study of water reuse public perception, cost of water reuse, establishing purpose specific reuse guidelines and water quality monitoring and management plan for study area is recommended before implementation. Monitoring, which is one of the barriers in risk abatement, should include for the study area emerging pathogens, inorganic and organic contaminants of concern such as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).