South Africa’s worrying state of wastewater management requires urgent public-private partnerships to accelerate technology development to improve the current situation, says Dr Rembu Magoba, Manager of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Water Research Centre.

Dr Magoba was speaking at the Africa Water, Waste and Green Energy Conference held in Cape Town recently. Government representatives, business leaders and decision-makers from African countries attended the conference. The country’s wastewater treatment system has worsened over the years since 2013. 39% of assessed wastewater treatment systems are now classified as critical, a drop from 29% in 2013.

Dr Magoba said the CSIR has prioritised addressing these challenges through its research, development, and innovation (RD&I) initiatives in sustainable water and wastewater management. The CSIR has been at the forefront of water research and produced tools of intervention to respond to wastewater management difficulties.

Over the years, the CSIR has developed water research and technologies to assist municipalities to extend the lifespan of current wastewater treatment systems and enhance the quality of wastewater effluent.

CSIR Pilot Decentralised Wastewater Treatment System. Image credit: CSIR

CSIR Pilot Decentralised Wastewater Treatment System. Image credit: CSIR

The valorisation of wastewater technology is one of the CSIR’s innovations which involve struvite recovery from municipal wastewater. Research has shown that struvite is more efficient compared to conventional fertilisers because it contains essential components for plant growth.

The Decision Support System (DSS) developed by the CSIR is another invention that enables South Africa’s potential for large-scale water reuse to be prioritised. This tool can be used to help determine the potential for water and wastewater reuse in public and private sector. It increases water use efficiency and contributes to the circular economy by reusing the effluent produced by industry and major cities nationwide. The future version of the DSS will focus on obtaining additional data for each water user, which will allow for a more detailed and reliable assessment of fit-for-purpose wastewater reuse options. The CSIR is uniquely placed to provide this smart water solution in South Africa.

The decentralised wastewater treatment system that the CSIR researchers have created is linked to chemical-free sanitation technologies. Small community-based settlements, including schools, prisons, industrial parks, rural areas, and peri-urban communities, can use the decentralised and modular packaged wastewater treatment systems. The wastewater can be further cleaned up using chemical-free methods to enable use for further applications. The advantage of this technology is that the quality of the effluent is more controlled than conventional wastewater treatment plants, and thus can be used for different purposes at the point of source, leading to reduced water demand. Most conventional wastewater treatment plants are currently overloaded with inflows, with some operating above design levels.

Dr Magoba said that the CSIR is the partner of choice for government and other private organisations when it comes to water research and technology development and is ready to work with various municipalities and other strategic partners to address water challenges in South Africa.

“Our partnership with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, the DWS, water boards, the DSI, the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent, Water Research Commission, SALGA, and Council for Geoscience, among other key water institutions, as well as the private sector, will be key in ensuring that we deliver water services in South Africa, especially to the rural parts of our country. The CSIR aims to create fit-for-purpose technologies for the development and optimisation of smart and robust water use and wastewater infrastructure with concomitant improved operation and maintenance,” says Dr Magoba.

The CSIR has a fully-fledged water research team that focuses on South Africa’s water needs, such as smart water use, smart water and wastewater infrastructure and smart water analytics and solutions.