Collaboration is key to seizing the reuse opportunity of Wastewater

Infrequent or a lack of potable water supply has made wastewater reuse and recovery a method of choice for many across the globe. Whether it has been for hundreds of years like in Greek cities, or a new endeavor like in Dakar, Senegal, wastewater reuse and recovery is an important contribution to achieving SDG 6[1] and enabling the circular economy. But, how can we scale up existing projects in the sector and ensure adequate financing to reinvigorate ageing and obsolete infrastructure?

At the IWA’s Water and Development Congress and Exhibition in Buenos Aires, Argentina this coming November, the IWA is partnering with the World Bank, CAF – Development Bank of Latin America – and the IFC – International Finance Corporation – to host a Leaders Forum titled Wastewater as a Resource – Managing Wastewater towards Water-Wise Cities: Innovative Solutions for Engagement, Planning and Investment. During this Forum, experiences on planning and implementation, regulatory incentives, market conditions and institutional arrangements will be shared between water leaders across the world, and IWA will launch the report “Wastewater: the reuse opportunity” supported by OFID funding.

With so many different factors to take into account, how can urban leaders begin to achieve the wastewater revival? Through true collaboration – a word often used, but rarely implemented to its fullest. City leaders, regulators, basin agencies and utilities must all come together to seize the reuse opportunity of wastewater. They need to understand the benefits that come from safe wastewater reuse and recovery, such as “turning waste into a product, creating new businesses, reducing pollution and making cities more resource efficient.”

Before uniting to achieve positive impacts, stakeholders must also grasp the needs of others and the issue at hand. Motivation to act comes from the realisation of urgency, so proper communication is vital to the successful implementation of a project. Wastewater reuse and recovery is, aptly, the 2017 theme of UN-Water – a leading issue worldwide. As such, many organisations, private companies, governments and more are looking for ways to solve the wastewater issues – getting the message out loud and clear.

The IWA Principles for Water-Wise Cities are just one way of aligning the visions of the many different urban stakeholders towards reuse and recovery amongst other things. As mentioned by Stuart Waters, Managing Director of Twyfords, “co-defining the dilemma across stakeholders is an essential component of collaboration.” For city leaders and utilities, it is about ensuring public health and safe quantities of potable water, for regulators it is making policies and standards that advance public interest, for basin agencies – it is about the larger scale and ensuring the health and quality of the watershed, and for financiers, it is about ensuring that loans can be paid back and increasing returns on investment.

Cities can take the lead towards the resource revolution, empowering other stakeholders along the way. Many cities have already taken charge and are combining forces in order to deliver sustainable solutions. One such city is Kampala, Uganda, where the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) and the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) have formed a partnership to improve services across the city, including the reuse of sludge, as well as producing biogas, from wastewater treatment plants. Another example of collaboration comes from the city of Oslo, Norway, where city officials, public transit and utilities came together to power buses with biomethane.

This poo-to-pump initiative demonstrates how a key issue, air pollution, can lead to win-win scenarios for all in the city. Waternet in Amsterdam has identified that grinding foodwaste, like in the US, would enable a saving in solid waste management, while increasing the efficiency of the biogas production at the wastewater treatment plant. However, regulations do not allow this. Increasing collaboration and knowledge exchange are ways to influence regulatory bodies to enable the reuse opportunity.

Aligning leaders along a common vision is challenging and potentially time consuming, but once true collaboration is achieved, the possibilities for positive impacts are endless. Collaboration is key to solving complex issues and building long-lasting relationships. Wastewater reuse and recovery can become commonplace in cities all over the world.

[1] SDG6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all