“Across the world, safely reused wastewater is grossly undervalued as a potentially affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.”- United Nations World Water Development Report 2017.
The Government of Guyana has made strides in the implementation of projects that aligns with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals by maintaining a green economy, safe lives and environment. One such contribution is the emphasis on integrated wastewater management.
Why Reuse Water?
Through integrated wastewater management, sewage waste goes through a cycled process of treatment and then the water is developed for reuse. Reusable wastewater contributes a vast collection of benefits to the livelihoods of many, including the reduction of water scarcity, pollution reduction, agricultural activities, among other environmental benefits.
Treating sewage water helps against reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane. A well-designed wastewater project allows for better sludge management solutions, such as methane capture and energy generation, which help mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions coming from plants’ operations. Moreover, water reuse can contribute to helping cities adapt to climate change by providing an additional and sustainable source of fresh water.
To encourage the use of reusable water and eradicate the stigma attached, Mr Rensforde Joseph, Sanitations Manager of the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) said the agency has devised a strategic business plan to promote the benefits of wastewater and how it can safely be used as a good resource to the country.
“One of the things that GWI is doing, is to help the public to recognize that wastewater is basically 99% water and therefore it should not continue to have that stigma attached to it because in reality it is mainly water. More than that, it is enriched water that has lots of benefits, benefits for plants, because wastewater contain phosphorus you get nitrogen, potassium, which are all plant food. If we can harness wastewater properly, and extract what is required for the plant, then wastewater, the stigma that is attached to it can be removed.”
Mr Joseph went on to explain that one key benefit of reusable water is the high availability of renewable energy. Renewable energy is something almost every country is committed to on a long term, looking at the impacts of climate change due to the use of fossil fuels to produce electricity, gasoline etc.
“Apart from that wastewater also contains lots of opportunity for energy generation, one kilowatt of COD (Chemical oxygen demand), which basically is the measure of the contaminants in the water, or the ability of the water to metabolize organic matter. One kilogram of cod is equivalent to almost four kilowatt hour of power. So if we understand that, then the stigma that is associated with wastewater can be removed, and then people will begin to embrace wastewater, as not as a negative into the environment, but something that can contribute positively to the environment.”
To be clear the GWI Sanitations Manager is asking the public to understand that the stigma attached to the wastewater usage is a misconception.
“The majority of wastewater, domestic wastewater is generated from bathroom and sinks and not so much from toilet facilities. Therefore, whatever contaminant is in our water is not to the extent that it cannot be reused once properly treated. Once we can get that message across, I think the mindset of persons will begin to change… Also, we need to get a message to the younger age group, the school children, because once they understand the next generation will understand and that stigma will begin to move.
According to Mr Joseph, “It begins with education and helping them to understand what is wastewater”, as he stressed that “It is important to understand that once it is properly treated, then it can be used reused. For example, in Singapore, Singapore has a policy of reusing every drop of water that is generated in that country and we would know that Singapore is one leader in terms of water and wastewater treatment, and their public is just very much on board because they were able to convince the public of the benefits of wastewater reuse.”
Just like Singapore, other countries such as Australia, Israel and Namibia has incorporated the reuse of wastewater into their water management systems to support water availability and sustainable development.
The Bigger Picture
Currently there is a national task force that is focusing specifically on integrated wastewater management, through this study, there will be a number of policies and guidelines that will support not just water, but wastewater and how it can be properly managed in the country.
GWI over the years has been actively involved in their campaign for reusable water and continues to capitalize on every opportunity to share its benefits through participating in exhibitions and public discourse. In 2020 a pilot for waste wastewater treatment was created signifying Guyana’s efforts in promoting sustainability.
Mr Shaik Baksh Chief Executive Officer GWI, during a recent press conference announced that the first ever wastewater treatment plant proposed for the capital city Georgetown will commence in 2023 and will see an estimated cost of 30 million USD for the project.
“It’s important that such a plant be built and the government is agreeable to that but we have to get the funding to move it forward and I’m hoping that we can do so in 2023… Right now the sludge is going into the Demerara River, you know so we have to build a plant to avoid that from happening in the future.”
In Georgetown, the sewerage system consists of 24 pumping stations that receive wastewater from the central Georgetown area from a fixed population of 60,000 persons and a transient population of 200,000 persons daily.
The GWI CEO gave detail that the new wastewater plant will be built in a location that will not affect residents and is suitable to the environment.
“We already have a suitable site in mind to put the waste water treatment plant. The new models waste water treatment plant, don’t have smell, it is so well constructed now. So that shouldn’t be a problem but we have already identified an area away from residential areas.”
According to Mr Baksh, in order to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change the new wastewater plant is a valuable asset. When built the plant will allow for the processing and treatment of raw sewage, sludge capturing treatment, and the removal of pollutants for reuse in the area of its by-products, such as nutrients and biogas, which can be used for agriculture and energy generation.
Wastewater benefits will over time outweigh the many costs incurred for the lack in management of the valuable resource. The positive impacts of water supply will continue to drive advancement in environmental sustainability, public health and economic development.
This story was originally published by Island Press Box, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.