IMIESA speaks to Tumelo Gopane, managing director, East Rand Water Care Company (ERWAT), about the company’s future strategy and its pivotal role in changing the landscape of wastewater treatment in South Africa.Home to more than 3.5 million residents, the City of Ekurhuleni is Gauteng’s third largest metro and a strategically important one, with its economy largely driven by agriculture, manufacturing and mining. Ekurhuleni’s approved Aerotropolis Master Plan is also strategically important, driving the vision of becoming an Aerotropolis City. Within this framework, ERWAT is vital to the city’s function, currently operating 19 wastewater care works and employing some of the most experienced engineers, scientists and technicians in this complex field. ERWAT permanently runs plants that release between 800 MLD to 1 000 MLD, depending on the season. “ERWAT is a recognised leader and our wish is to collaborate with all stakeholders in order to share the knowledge we’ve gained over the years in addressing the roll-out of wastewater infrastructure, operations and maintenance, and new construction,” Gopane explains. “Some three years ago, for example, ERWAT conducted an assessment on all of Limpopo’s wastewater treatment plants at the request of the Limpopo Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA).” Currently, a fair number of wastewater plants in South Africa are not performing as well as they should. Where discharged effluent is not meeting ideal standards, this has a knock-on effect, increasing the cost of downstream water purification. “We’re here to collaborate in addressing the situation, as well as highlight and emphasise the nationwide backlog on sanitation, which is frequently one of the more neglected areas in the infrastructure mix, as the focus is largely on potable drinking water.”
Urbanisation and sanitationIn an ideal world, planning and infrastructure roll-outs should be in advance of forecasted trends, but the rate of urbanisation in South Africa, like most of the world, is unprecedented.
Ekurhuleni has over 100 informal settlements, and the number is set to grow. That puts an enormous strain on existing infrastructure and the city’s human settlements programme. “Building wastewater facilities, pipelines and pump stations for these settlements cannot happen overnight, largely due to financial constraints. Therefore, we’re looking at more realistic alternatives, like package plants, which are far faster and more affordable to deploy than conventional treatment works,” Gopane expands. “Plus they should ideally replace VIP (ventilated improved pit) toilets, which were always intended to be a temporary solution. VIPs cost the city millions to service annually and impact negatively on quality of life.”Package plants also have the advantage of being decentralised, ‘off-the-grid’ solutions that occupy small site footprints, making them well suited for installation within a congested township setting. Gopane also argues that a decentralised, package plant approach should be considered for new developments in general, including industrial zones. “Otherwise, it will be very challenging to raise the capital to address the current backlogs and provide for future requirements,” he states.
Infrastructure assessmentsIn the past financial year, commencing 1 July 2017, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were tasked with conducting infrastructure assessments at all ERWAT plants to evaluate future maintenance and replacement needs on critical equipment and machinery, like pumps, electric motors, transformers and biofilters. Ekurhuleni’s 250-plus pumpstations, maintained by ERWAT, have also been rigorously inspected. This maintenance philosophy of OEMs continuously ascertaining how their equipment is performing over its lifecycle ties in with ERWAT’s decision to appoint Aurecon, which will be responsible for developing an asset management policy strategy. This will include the development of standards and specifications. Gopane says that ERWAT’s asset management approach will be shared with the industry.
he continues. Other approaches being investigated include establishing public-private partnerships (PPPs) based on the build, own, operate and transfer model. For industrial customers, this would include selling reused water. Gopane points out that ERWAT’s Waterval plant, which serves an almost 95% industrial client base, would be well suited for a PPP and could be ring-fenced to guarantee a return on investment. Outside Ekurhuleni, additional funding could potentially also be sourced by assisting other municipalities and by increasing ERWAT’s private sector business where it already manages the wastewater needs of a number of blue-chip FMCG clients. Mining is the next sector being targeted. At the 2018 Investing in African Mining Indaba, ERWAT’s stand attracted a number of positive enquiries from local mining houses, as well as operations in countries like Zambia and the DRC. “Our vision is for ERWAT to become the entity supporting wastewater across South Africa and beyond. We are already doing this in a fragmented manner, but we now plan to coordinate it from a Salga viewpoint to ensure that every citizen has access to world-class sanitation,” Gopane concludes.