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Water Treatment in South Africa: The Challenges and Solutions

What if we told you that 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water—with 97% salt water and 3% freshwater? Of the 3%, less than 1% is portable, and by 2030, the demand for water will exceed supply by 17%. But it’s not just overpopulation and climate change that are to blame.

South Africa’s municipal water treatment plants are in a critical state and have reached a “tipping point” in terms of incompetence and neglect. A recent report revealed that out of South Africa’s 850 water treatment plants, only 7% comply with benchmarks and standards. While the government estimates an upgrade to cost around R900 billion—they don’t even have two-thirds of the amount.

As the 30th driest country in the world, South Africa is continually assessing how best to balance sustainable water supply with ever-growing demand—and the conclusion is that South Africa’s water challenges cannot be isolated from smart, sustainable water treatment solutions. Here’s how the latest water treatment solutions are addressing South Africa’s current water challenges.

Utilise the ocean using high performance patented reverse osmosis technology

From agriculture, mining, and oil to manufacturing—just about every industry in South Africa is feeling the pinch. Where some industries can reduce their water consumption, for others, reducing their water consumption means compromising assets and product quality.

The solution? With over 70% of the earth made up of seawater and with over one-quarter of the world’s population living within less than 25 kilometres of the ocean, seawater desalination is a vital technology for water treatment. A saving grace to industries and communities, desalination converts seawater to potable water using processes such as nanofiltration or desalination technology. This process can help businesses and communities produce up to 25 million gallons of potable water per day.

Take NuWater, for instance, a key player in the South African water waste management sector. To help power companies, reclaim and reuse wastewater, NuWater designed, built and operated the world’s first full-scale seawater desalination plant in Singapore using their high performing patented Reverse Osmosis Membrane Technology.

Setting new benchmarks in performance, productivity, and reliability globally, this technology reclaims 55 million litres a day of high-quality water from secondary sewage water for reuse by industry and by people. Utilising a 16-inch diameter of the membrane element which leaves behind any trace of salt, minerals or contaminants, the water is of such a high quality that they use much of it in the manufacture of sensitive electronic wafers.

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Reduce operational costs and improve efficiency with plant rentals

Energy consumption and traditional water management and water treatment methods are the greatest challenges facing water treatment plants today. Large, centralised infrastructure projects are expensive, inflexible, and take too long to deliver. For this very reason, businesses view water treatment systems as a sunk cost with many sacrificing upgrades and maintenance repairs to save money. What they do not grasp is that ineffective monitoring, measurement, management, and maintenance leads to higher operational costs, down-time and damaged assets.

The solution? Rent a customised water treatment plant, a modular unit or a full-scale industrial design-and-build project that includes installation, daily operations management and ongoing maintenance. With the focus on plant automation, remote monitoring and data-driven performance management, this innovative business model reduces operational costs and downtime, protects assets, and improves efficiency while making better-informed technology upgrade decisions based on quantifiable investment returns.

Reduce environmental footprint and stimulate growth and revenue with green technologies

Wastewater treatment is an extremely important part of keeping our environment sustainable, but wastewater plants also leave an environmental footprint after the treatment process. The organic matter stripped from the water must go somewhere, right?

The solution? Holding major opportunities that could stimulate economies and build significant revenue potential, wastewater is now being considered more as a resource than as a waste and is now being used as an energy source. Green innovative wastewater technologies have been improving the way we treat wastewater, and with automation and innovation moving forward, the industry can look forward to a variety of new technologies that can produce revenue while also protecting the environment and the ecosystem.

We design, build, operate and finance water treatment plants

At the forefront of innovation in the water sector, NuWater is a technology-led company that designs, engineers, builds, finances and operates advanced plants for the treatment of water and wastewater, and the provision of high-quality drinking and industrial process water from sea, river, ground and wastewater sources.

Addressing South Africa’s water-energy nexus by pushing technology forward to improve water management systems while maintaining energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness, we are focused on minimising the impact on the environment and empowering communities and industries with smart water treatment solutions that create a sustainable supply of high-quality water.

We are leading the way in RO, Membrane Bioreactor, Ultra and Micro-Filtration Technologies

Leading the way in world-class domestic, commercial and industrial reverse osmosis technology, membrane bioreactor technology, and ultra and micro-filtration technologies, we deliver projects across the entire water cycle that balances social, economic and environmental priorities. 

Incorporating alternative energy sources such as solar to offer complete off-grid solutions, not only can a single plant installation treat 8-Olympic-sized swimming pools of water a day, but it can successfully recycle what already exists in pools of polluted water all over the country, from acid mine drainage (AMD), agriculture, and fertiliser waste to brackish aquifers. 

At NuWater, we believe that being a South African company with an in-depth understanding of the local market, combined with our proven world-leading technology and years of experience place us in a position to play a valuable role in addressing South Africa’s water security challenges. To learn more about our smart water treatment solutions—chat with us today.


NuWater has evolved from a dynamic new startup challenging the status quo, to an industry leader and pioneer of smart water treatment solutions. Solutions that are sustainable, mobile, adaptable, resourceful and transformational.

Solutions that are changing lives, communities, businesses, ecosystems and environments for the better. Solutions that turn previously unusable water sources into valuable resources for our growing portfolio of clients.

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