The DBSA's plans to improve water infrastructure for municipalities

The condition of water infrastructure plays an important role in a country’s economic development and growth. Water infrastructure refers to all types of infrastructure that is water-related, from water supply to treatment, storage, water resources and management. 

Without sufficient water infrastructure, the living conditions of the citizens are heavily impacted. South Africa has, over the past few years, been experiencing municipal water infrastructure challenges. The drought has affected many cities across the country, with a projected 17 percent water deficit by the year 2030. This is an indication that water scarcity will continue to be a challenge if there are no investments channelled to water infrastructure. 

It is because of this that the South African National Water Resource Strategy identified water reuse as a solution to balance the supply and demand for water infrastructure. However, there is little evidence of water or effluent reuse projects being implemented at scale in South Africa. 

The truth is, water reuse and reclamation is not a new concept. It has been widely practised in developed and emerging economies such as the United States, Spain, Singapore, Australia, Israel, Namibia and China. Namibia has been a pioneer of direct potable reuse since the 1960s. International experience shows that reuse in Singapore is at 30 percent of demand and 85 percent in Israel. 

Challenges with water reuse

Social acceptability

The challenges that are a stumbling block to the consideration of water reuse are public perception, social, cultural and religious beliefs. According to this article on water reuse, the Cape Town and Durban municipalities rejected water reuse options due to public concerns.

However, indirect potable reuse and blending options are available and often socially more acceptable. In many cases, South Africa is exposed to some form of reuse, but with unintended consequences that such reuse is unplanned and therefore unmonitored. We should; however, strive towards intentional, planned reuse to appropriately mitigate risks of unintended reuse. 

The solution in this regard is a national public awareness and educational strategy. In doing so, we ensure a clear understanding of the processes of water reuse and the benefits of this process. The result of this will be successful scaling and implementation of water reuse in South Africa. 

Quality and costs

Water quality is another drawback when compared to other water supply options available on the market, such as desalination. However, there are now new and improved technological options that are able to drive the quality and effectiveness of water reuse processes. 

Additionally, water reuse has proven to be more cost-effective than desalination, which means South African coastal cities have potential opportunities to access an additional source of water supply, totalling half its daily demand – at a much lower cost than desalination – while simultaneously reducing marine and beach pollution around these important tourist destinations. 


Water reuse opportunities

This data opens up South Africa to the opportunity to develop treated effluent as a viable, reliable and sizable contributor to the water resource mix. 

The Development Bank of Southern Africa has recognised water and effluent reuse as an opportunity to solve municipality water challenges. The Bank is working on a National Water Reuse Programme for South Africa, which is aimed at encouraging and assisting municipalities with scaling their water reuse projects. 

This programme will ensure that the Bank assists municipalities with strategies to progress their water reuse projects from concept stage to a bankable stage. The Bank will also design a blended finance solution which will allow the crowding in of commercial and private sector funding, in addition to Development Finance Institutions (DFI), concessional and grant funding. 


A practical approach for a better water reuse future

To reduce the 2030 water deficit, DBSA hopes to ultimately establish water reuse infrastructure as a new financial asset class in South Africa. There are also legal and environmental aspects to consider in deciding on the implementation of large reuse schemes and projects, such as impacts on downstream users, including the ecological reserve.

But the Bank is facilitating strategies that will ensure water reuse is a practical approach to solve South Africa’s water infrastructure challenges. The Bank also hopes to establish a National Water Reuse Programme Office, which will primarily ensure that project preparation assistance and blended finance solutions are available to develop practical approaches towards water reuse.